Backers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) in conference call with reporters Thursday re-emphasized "the urgent public need" for the project, pushing back against a public debate that has tended to focus on protests and regulatory procedure.
Dominion Energy CEO Diane Leopold said the importance of ACP in meeting future energy needs for its target markets "sometimes gets lost" in the discussion surrounding the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d pipeline.
"Public utilities in Virginia and North Carolina are depending on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to bring new supplies of natural gas to generate cleaner electricity, provide home heating for a growing population, and power new manufacturing plants and other industries," she said. "The region's existing pipeline infrastructure is fully tapped and unable to meet these growing needs."
With or without the former Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, the growing reliance on natural gas-fired electric generation is likely to continue in Virginia and North Carolina, as well as other parts of the United States, Leopold said.
"The environmental benefits, abundance and low cost of natural gas is making it a core component of" the power stack, and it also serves as "a partner with renewable energy," she said.
ACP, proposed to cross through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, is designed to transport Marcellus and Utica shale gas to serve heating and electric generation demand in the Mid-Atlantic. The project received a favorable draft environmental impact statement (EIS) from FERC late last year; management is hoping for a final EIS by June 30 and a certificate order by late summer or early fall.
"We certainly hope and expect that the FERC will have a quorum by that time," Leopold said.
Leopold also provided updates Thursday on ACP's progress in securing necessary approvals from other federal, state and local agencies. The project has received permits to build compressor stations in Buckingham County, VA, and Northampton County, NC. And the U.S. Forest Service has also given preliminary approval for plans to drill underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail, though a permit to cross 20 miles of national forests along the Virginia/West Virginia border is still pending, she said.
Meanwhile, survey work is 98% complete, and more than 60% of landowners have signed mutual easement agreements along the project route. So far, ACP has made over 300 route adjustments, she said.
Pipe production is over 65% complete, with the project having now procured close to 85% of all land, materials and services needed to build the pipeline, she said.
Circling back to her earlier comments, Leopold emphasized "the strong public support for the project," pointing to labor unions, government officials and individuals that have come out in favor of the proposed pipeline.
"Opponents may receive much of the attention. It is their right to speak out," Leopold said. "But it is clear the majority believes this project should and must be built."
ACP is a joint venture of Dominion, Duke Energy and Southern Company Gas. Developers are targeting an in-service date in 2019.