Florida Power & Light Co. is on the cusp of getting the pipeline it has long wanted to carry natural gas from elsewhere in the nation to Central and South Florida to run the utility's power plants.
But the proposed $3.6 billion project, which FPL hopes to start using in 2017, has drawn mixed responses from even groups that are usually allies.
Among them, Audubon Florida lauds natural gas as cleaner than coal when burned by power plants, while Sierra Club Florida opposes the line as likely to ensure that the state becomes further addicted to the fuel at the expense of developing solar power.
Other negative reactions include:
•Contention by many environmentalists that the use of natural gas on the whole – from drilling to consuming – is as damaging to the environment as the use of coal.
•Concerns that the route of the proposed pipeline is potentially harmful to Florida wetlands and aquifers.
•Criticism from some environmental groups that the line is likely to help set up Floridians for sticker shock should the supply of natural gas tighten and prices rise.
Meanwhile, supporters of the proposed pipeline say it is a critically needed third way to deliver natural gas to the state's most populated regions. Many utility officials are worried Florida has left itself vulnerable to power outages by relying on two pipelines.
Industry supporters such as the Florida Natural Gas Association also say the pipeline would not increase demand for natural gas because utilities already strongly favor the fuel over coal.
The longest leg of the line is proposed to carry 1 billion cubic feet of gas daily and extend 474 miles from Alabama to just south of Orlando in Osceola County.
Its builder would be Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, a company created by pipeline specialist Spectra Energy Corp. and FPL parent company NextEra Energy Inc. The line's proposed route in Florida crosses 12 counties and 218 miles. Company officials have said 80 percent of the 36-inch-diameter pipe would follow existing utilities or roads.
At the end of the Sabal Trail portion would be a 14-mile spur called the Hunters Creek Line that leads to southwest Orange County and connects with the Florida Gas Transmission Co. LLC pipeline, the longest and largest gas-line system in the state.
That short segment's proposed route skirts several neighborhoods.
Also connected to the end of the Sabal Trail line would be a 126-mile segment, carrying 400 million cubic feet of gas daily to FPL's power plants near Lake Okeechobee.
Called the Florida Southeast Connection, that project is being pursued by NextEra Energy only and would cross largely rural areas in five counties.
There's little dispute that power plants using natural gas emit less or even none of the pollutants discharged by coal-burning plants, something FPL frequently emphasizes.
But controversy persists nationally over water pollution caused when drillers use "fracking" to extract natural gas from the ground.
Environmentalists also assert that methane – a key ingredient of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas – leaks from drilling operations and pipelines, adding significantly to global warming.
Those concerns and others specific to the pipeline's potential impacts to private property in Alabama, Georgia and Florida are being raised by a group called SpectraBusters, which is using http://www.spectrabusters.org to organize its efforts.
Sabal Trail and Southeast Connection held public meetings late last year. Next to come, possibly later this year, are public meetings by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The agency has received dozens of comments already from residents and groups in Georgia and Florida opposed to the project.
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Forecast 2014: Energy
Bright spots: A plentiful supply of natural gas in the U.S. has been a game changer for the energy industry, helping to hold down power bills and lessen pollution from power plants.
Storm clouds: The growing supply and use of natural gas is being met by significant criticism that the fuel is as harmful to the environment as coal.
Trends to watch: Many energy and utility experts concede the state has become highly dependent on natural gas for power plants but little is being done to diversify fuel sources.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun