With the Federal Trade Commission granting antitrust approval to the transaction this week, Duke Energy Corp. is one step closer to completing its proposed acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas, a move that signals the electric utility giant’s growing interest in natural gas.

The $6.7 billion transaction, announced in October (see Daily GPI, Oct. 26), comes amid a transformational shift in the power sector, driven by cheap gas and the prospect of regulatory limits on carbon emissions. In 2015, for the first time ever, gas has begun to usurp coal’s once-dominant position as the leading fuel source for domestic electric generation (see Daily GPI, Dec. 2; Oct. 28).

At the time the deal was announced, Duke CEO Lynn Good said that “abundant, low-cost natural gas will become an increasingly important part of the nation’s energy mix as the shift away from coal continues. Duke Energy has been a leader in the coal-to-gas transition in the last decade, and this acquisition further solidifies our leadership for the future.”

In Duke’s 3Q2015 results conference call last month, Good told investors that the utility “burned more natural gas in the first nine months of 2015 than in either of the two prior full years.” She went on to describe the Piedmont acquisition as adding “a well-established natural gas business and platform to the Duke portfolio. From a strategic perspective, we see this acquisition as the foundation for establishing a broader gas infrastructure platform within Duke, building upon our recent gas pipeline investments.”

During the call, Good provided status updates on several planned gas generation projects, representing around $3 billion in investments in plants in North and South Carolina. To help assure enough supply for this growing gas portfolio, Duke is participating in both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC (ACP) and the Sabal Trail Transmission LLC joint ventures (JV).

Through the Piedmont merger, Duke would be acquiring one of its partners in the 1.5 Bcf/d ACP. The Duke/Piedmont deal follows a string of similar mergers and acquisitions in the last few years, reflecting a growing intersection of electric and gas utilities amid the ongoing resource shift.

Earlier this year, Southern Company agreed to acquire ACP partner AGL Resources (see Daily GPI, Aug. 24). In June Wisconsin Energy Corp. completed its acquisition of Integrys Energy Group, forming gas and power utility giant WEC Energy Group Inc. (see Daily GPI, June 30). Further back, Florida-based TECO Energy announced its plans to acquire New Mexico Gas Co. for $950 million (see Daily GPI, May 29, 2013).

Late last week, Duke, which serves 7.3 million electric customers across six states, announced that it planned to appoint current Piedmont Chief Commercial Officer Frank Yoho as head of its gas operations once the deal is completed.

Yoho, in his role with Piedmont, “is responsible for sales and marketing, transportation services, supply planning, gas supply” and wholesale marketing, among other things, according to Duke.

Besides ACP, Piedmont is also participating in a number of other gas transportation-related JVs, including Constitution Pipeline Co. LLC and Cardinal Pipeline Co. LLC.

On Wednesday, Piedmont announced its results for the fiscal year ended Oct. 31. The utility reported a net income for 2015 of $137 million ($1.73/share) versus year-ago net profits of $143.8 million ($1.84).