Momentum is building for a natural gas pipeline solution to New England’s electric reliability and price spike woes, and Spectra Energy Corp. CEO Greg Ebel thinks his company’s Access Northeast project will be the one.

Access Northeast would expand existing assets of Spectra’s Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC system. This week, Algonquin filed at FERC for a prefiling review [PF16-1].

New England electric “…reliability is becoming a more critical concern each year as additional coal, oil and nuclear plants announce retirements,” Ebel said during an earnings conference call Wednesday. “Key to Access Northeast is recognizing the importance of being directly connected to 60% of New England’s gas-fired electric generators.

“Electric generators without last-mile firm transportation contracts have no guarantees of gas deliveries on peak demand days, regardless of firm contracts they may have on other pipelines. Access Northeast will largely solve this issue.”

Algonquin has tentative agreements with seven electric distribution companies (EDC) related to firm transportation service on the project. Access Northeast would be an upgrade of existing pipeline facilities and market-area storage assets in New England to deliver, on peak days, up to 1 Bcf of gas for power generation and other markets. The project would enhance the Algonquin and Maritimes & Northeast systems, which directly connect to about 60% of New England’s gas-fired electric generation (see Daily GPI, Feb. 19).

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct is a competitor to Access Northeast (see Daily GPI, Sept. 3). The Kinder Morgan Inc. pipeline’s project has been strongly opposed in comments at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by landowners and some area politicians (see Daily GPI, Oct. 21).

In his comments to analysts, Ebel highlighted the brownfield nature of Access Northeast. Despite regional opposition to pipeline and other infrastructure development, acceptance is building among regulators in the various states affected. “…[W]e are at a positive turning point in support for our approach and for the electric distribution companies to secure capacity continues to build with a series of separate but very consistent actions across the different states,” he said.

For instance, Rhode Island’s Affordable Clean Energy Security Act of 2014 authorizes open and competitive solicitations for infrastructure projects and clean energy resources, he said. Last month in Massachusetts, the state’s Department of Public Utilities confirmed its legal authority to review and approve EDC contracts to enhance electric reliability and reduce energy costs (see Daily GPI, Oct. 5).

In Maine, Ebel said, regulatory proceedings have recognized the benefits of a regional electric reliability solution (see Daily GPI, Oct. 6, 2014). Progress is also being made in Connecticut. And in New Hampshire, a Public Utility Commission staff report supports allowing EDCs to contract for natural gas pipeline capacity (see Daily GPI, Sept. 18).

“We’ve made significant progress since the region’s governors came together around the reliability challenge they identified in 2013,” he said [see Daily GPI, Dec. 6, 2013]. “We’re optimistic that before the year is over, some of the electric distribution companies will be filing contracts for state approval. With all this positive momentum, we’re even more confident in our ability to move Access Northeast into execution in the first half of 2016.”

Algonquin asked FERC to authorize prefiling review by Nov. 13. Initial service on Access Northeast is planned for November 2018, assuming successful contracting and regulatory approval.

Spectra’s third quarter net income was $174 million (26 cents/ share), compared with $201 million (30 cents) in the year-ago quarter.

Spectra Energy Partners reported third quarter earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $488 million, compared with $422 million in 3Q2014, reflecting higher earnings in the natural gas transmission business, mainly because of expansion projects entering service.