Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas are seeking proposals to build and operate a second major natural gas pipeline into North Carolina.
Duke has increasingly relied on gas as prices fell and coal-fired power plants shut down in the face of looming environmental standards. Piedmont’s customer growth last year was the highest since 2008 and continues to climb.
North Carolina is now served by Transco, a 10,200-mile pipeline owned by Williams Partners L.P. that sends Gulf of Mexico gas from south Texas to New York City. The line runs toward the Northeast in a diagonal route through Western North Carolina, including Mecklenburg County.
Massive new gas supplies are being developed in Pennsylvania and other northeastern states as the drilling technique called fracking taps shale-gas deposits.
Duke and Piedmont offer few details but say they have a “strong preference” for an interstate pipeline with a different route from the Transco line.
“Aside from knowing it’s going to end in North Carolina … the other terminus we won’t know until we get the proposals back,” said Piedmont spokesman David Trusty.
The companies’ solicitation to pipeline builders says they want expanded access to “competitive, secure, diverse and abundant supplies” with increased reliability for future gas deliveries.
It’s not clear who would own a new pipeline. The solicitation says Duke and Piedmont will consider a joint venture, ownership interest, strategic partnership or other financial arrangement.
“We’re leaving it wide open and evaluating a wide range of options,” said Duke spokesman Dave Scanzoni.
Edward Jones utilities analyst Andy Smith said Duke and Piedmont might prefer to own at least part of the new pipeline, allowing them to recover their investment through customer rates.
“It seems to make sense on the surface,” Smith said. “Duke has built a bunch of new gas-fired power plants, and they need supply. Piedmont has a growing customer base.”
Charlotte-based Piedmont owns a 24 percent stake in the new Constitution pipeline, now under construction, that will run from northern Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale drilling region to northeastern markets.
Florida Power & Light last year chose proposals by Spectra Energy and NextEra Energy to expand gas capacity in that state. A pipeline will run from southwestern Alabama to south Florida by 2017.
Duke and Piedmont want an initial pipeline capacity into North Carolina of up to 900 million cubic feet a day. Transco moves up to 9.8 billion cubic feet a day.
A proposal is expected to be selected by the end of 2014, with completion of the pipeline by late 2018.
The project would need approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates interstate natural gas pipelines, and Carolinas utilities commissions.
Duke has opened five natural gas-fired power plants in the state since 2011 and proposed another in South Carolina. Its latest planning forecast projects a continuing shift to gas, which burns more cleanly than coal.
Piedmont pipes gas to each of those plants, and last June completed a 128-mile line from Iredell County to Duke’s Sutton power plant in Wilmington.
Piedmont, which serves the Carolinas and Tennessee, added 14,200 customers in 2013. Customer growth for the first quarter of this year was 13 percent higher than in the same quarter of 2013.