- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Duke Energy Corp. and Piedmont Natural Gas Company Inc. said Tuesday they want to invest in a new natural gas pipeline into North Carolina that can deliver more of the cheap fuel to customers and especially to new power plants run by the country’s largest electricity company.

The two Charlotte-based companies said they are shopping for proposals to build a pipeline that could start delivering fuel to Duke’s electric power plants and other businesses beginning in late 2018. The companies expect to select a proposal by late this year.

The Transcontinental Gas pipeline is the single source of natural gas supplies to most customers in North Carolina. The pipeline runs from southeast Texas through Georgia and South Carolina, then on to the bulk of its customers in the Northeast. The Transcontinental pipeline’s operator is seeking regulatory permission to reverse the flow of gas so it can carry cheap gas released from the Marcellus Shale formation in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

With the new pipeline, Duke and Piedmont also would be likely to send gas from the Marcellus shale deposits to the Southeast, said Catherine Landry of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, a trade group for the North America natural gas pipeline industry.

“The single biggest natural gas field is Marcellus,” she said. “You have to start thinking about what does that mean for pipelines? You want to bring gas from Texas all the way to New England? What you want to do is have it move a shorter distance.”

Natural gas from the Marcellus shale deposits is produced by a drilling and pumping process called hydraulic fracturing, nicknamed “fracking.”

Duke and Piedmont are open to suggestions about the source of new natural gas supplies but seek “diversity of natural gas supplies” and a different pipeline route, the companies said in a statement. The companies are willing to structure their ownership or investment in any of several ways, the statement said.

Duke Energy has spent years shifting from burning coal under pressure from environmental protection laws. More recently it has been attracted to the lower cost of natural gas. Since 2011, the electric company has completed new gas-powered units at five North Carolina power plants, including one in Rockingham County where residues collected from decades of burning coal spilled and polluted the neighboring Dan River in February. Piedmont pipelines supply natural gas to all five plants.

Duke also is seeking regulatory approval to convert a plant in Anderson, S.C., into burning gas.

Piedmont wants the pipeline to supply its own growing list of customers. The company added 14,000 customers last year as new home construction returns from the recession’s depths, but existing customers also are converting to burning natural gas to save money, spokesman David Trusty said.

“With natural gas supplies being what they are and how dramatically they’ve increased in recent years, helping to keep natural gas prices stable and affordable, that’s the message that’s getting out to customers,” he said.


Emery Dalesio can be reached at https://twitter.com/emerydalesio.

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