Update on Florida Power & Light Co.’s Natural Gas Pipeline
A major pipeline that will transport at least 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day across a significant portion of the Florida peninsula recently received one of the last two major regulatory approvals needed. The contracts for building the pipeline, which were awarded by Florida Power & Light Co., the utility planning the pipeline, to Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC., received State approval from the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) in late October. In 2008, the PSC found that there was a need for the pipeline, and thus, the next and final significant regulatory hurdle is obtaining federal approval.
Sabal Trail is currently studying various corridors before it determines a preferred route for the pipeline, which is actually an interstate pipeline that will originate in Alabama and travel through Georgia before reaching Florida. Sabal Trail plans to submit its preferred route, along with alternatives, to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sometime in 2014. The FERC is a federal agency which has the sole authority to approve interstate natural gas pipelines. The FERC usually does approve these projects subject to a number of limiting conditions. Thus, due to both Sabal Trail’s process and the FERC approval process, the precise route of the pipeline is not yet fixed.
Once the pipeline’s final route is fixed, Sabal Trail must secure legal rights/permission to cross private parcels of land along the route. The company will obtain such permission either by negotiating voluntary contractual relationships with landowners or by forcing sales through the power of eminent domain. Eminent domain authority is explicitly conferred under Florida Statutes to certain companies constructing natural gas pipelines. However, both the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes provide certain protections to landowners facing eminent domain, such as the right to “just compensation.”
Regardless of the company’s means of acquiring the needed property rights, it will be important for landowners whose property may be within the project area to become involved in these proceedings and, if approached by FP&L or Sabal Trail, to seek legal representation to safeguard their rights.