The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is inching closer to reality, with the developers submitting detailed documents to federal regulators and announcing plans to open an office in Smithfield.
On Sept. 18, the energy companies behind the $5 billion project formally submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The application details a 564-mile pipeline that would transport natural gas from West Virginia to points throughout Virginia and North Carolina.
The comprehensive document spans 30,000 pages and includes environmental reports, exhibits and notes from about 60 public meetings held along the pipe’s proposed path, according to the developers. Printed copies stand 10 feet tall.
The developers expect FERC to issue a draft environmental-impact statement in January or February 2016, and the public will have a chance to comment either online or at public meetings, said Tammie McGee, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy.
The developers hope to get the green light from FERC in late summer or early fall, McGee said, and they plan to start laying pipe before the end of 2016. If everything goes according to schedule, they should be transporting natural gas by the end of 2018.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is unusual among pipeline projects because 96 percent of its capacity has been sold before the first foot of pipe has gone in the ground, McGee said. The project is a joint venture of four energy companies: Dominion, which has a 45-percent ownership stake; Duke Energy, which owns 40 percent; Piedmont Natural Gas, which owns 10 percent; and AGL Resources, which owns 5 percent.
Close to 80 percent of that capacity will go to produce electricity, McGee said. Duke Energy and Dominion have plans to close coal power plants and build new natural gas facilities, which will result in cleaner energy for North Carolina and Virginia, she said.
Of the remaining capacity, about 9 percent will be available for direct use by residential customers, another 9 percent will go to industrial consumers, and the remaining 2.8 percent will go to other uses such as fueling automobiles.
On the day the developers submitted their application to the feds, David Fountain, North Carolina president of Duke Energy, released a statement thanking community and business leaders in Eastern North Carolina for their support.
“The pipeline will be the first major natural gas pipeline in the region and a tremendous growth engine for the economy,” Fountain said. “It will also provide our customers access to new low-cost natural gas supplies and help us reduce our emissions and keep our customers’ power bills well below the national average.”
As would be expected for a project stretching more than 550 miles across three states, not all landowners are welcoming the pipeline onto their lands.
Last month, 16 Johnston County landowners joined hands in the rain to protest the project. Those gathered listed contamination, lost property value and the carbon footprint of natural-gas burning among their primary concerns. They also opposed the government’s use of eminent domain to take their land for a private enterprise.
Smithfield Mayor John Lampe said the pipeline will cut through some land that he owns. Lampe plans to accept the developers’ offer to lay the pipeline on his property, he said, because their price is fair, it should be safe, and he sees the benefit of the project.
“It’s for the greater good of the whole Eastern Seaboard,” Lampe said.
The developers also announced Sept. 18 that they will open nine metering and regulating offices along the path of the pipeline, and one of those will be in Smithfield. The 2,600 square foot office will create full-time jobs for an operations supervisor, gas-measurement specialist, corrosion technician and two utility workers.
Chis Johnson, director of Johnston County’s economic-development office, said he gets excited any time a company creates jobs in Johnston.
“Five jobs is five jobs, especially if you’re one of those five people,” he said.
“More and more companies are asking for natural gas as a part of their process,” he said. “So if we can build that capacity in Johnston County, then we’re in a position for recruiting better-paying jobs for people to live here and work here.”