December 2016, Vol. 243, No. 12


Incoming INGAA Chair Emphasizes ‘Common Good’ in Energy Debate

(Editor’s note: Remarks of Diane Leopold, INGAA Incoming Chair and President, Dominion Energy Media Briefing Oct. 12, 2016)

Our nation is at a crossroads in many ways. We have a presidential election underway, if you haven’t noticed. The Baby Boom generation is handing over its grip on our culture to the Millennials. And the energy industry is at a critical juncture. We are still adjusting to an abundance of energy after decades of concern about shortages.

Technology is opening new doors every day to both save and use more energy. It also is creating new ways to generate energy while improving the efficiency and environmental performance of traditional production. It has put us in a great debate about what is clean and green, what is safe and right, and what is the true cost of it all. The first two issues I mentioned – politics and shifting generations – are driving much of the third, the debate over energy.

My primary goal as INGAA chair is to help all sides of the energy debate work toward a common good and a shared solution. We need a solution based on realistic expectations and one that takes into account all the issues – reliability, affordability, safety and environmental impact.

I believe we agree on more than we realize. It may not seem that way some days, but I believe it is true. We need to work together toward a common good. It is the only way we can move forward with an energy plan and energy investments that best serve our country, our companies and our world. Standing still as we shout “no” at each other is not an option.

I am not just talking about the increased opposition we have seen to pipelines. The same is true for investments in virtually every kind of energy infrastructure project. There is vocal opposition around the country to numerous electric transmission lines, wind farms and solar projects. Homeowner’s associations have rules prohibiting private rooftop solar from where you can see it, which is also often where the sun shines.

There is hardly a significant energy project that doesn’t draw controversy. Even energy conservation is not without its critics who question its cost-effectiveness and measurability. I think just about everyone involved in the energy debate has the same goals in mind: sufficient amounts of safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy.

But if you truly believe there is a climate crisis, if you think our economy could be strangled by bad energy policy, if you are concerned we are on a sinking ship, then you can’t stand around arguing about which seat you get in the lifeboat or whether you get to steer. We are in this together. Get in the boat and let’s row together, or get left behind.

It is clear we will need major investments in renewables, natural gas, nuclear, the electric grid and conservation to make it work. Diversity is a strength in nature. It is a strength in society. It is a strength when it comes to providing energy. No single source of energy can meet our needs on its own.

All you have to do is look to forecasts about the coming of electric cars to see this is true. If Elon Musk is right and the days of gasoline-fueled automobiles are numbered, where will we get all the extra electricity and infrastructure to charge all those electric vehicles? Solar and wind will help. But, how are you going to recharge all those Teslas and other electric vehicles every night? We will need 24/7 generation – much it fueled by natural gas – to solve the problem.

I look forward to an open and honest dialogue over the next year on helping us move to a best solution. I will leave it to others to tout more of the benefits and importance of the various energy sources and technologies.

As INGAA chair, today I want to highlight the critical role the interstate natural gas pipeline system will play in our energy future. These pipelines provide a public service, much like the local utilities that serve your homes – built with private capital, which takes the burden off of government, but fully regulated from end to end.

Without interstate pipelines, there is no natural gas to heat your home in the winter time. Without interstate pipelines, there is no direct feedstock to make the fertilizer for our farms, the plastic in your pens, the clothes for our families, or many other products made in America.

And without interstate pipelines, there is no viable way to meet the environmental goals in the manufacturing and electric sectors, including the Clean Power Plan. Hundreds of coal-fired power stations are being closed, and it takes more than 8,000 acres of new solar to replace the energy generated from just one moderately sized coal unit. If you wanted to use solar to replace one of the new, state-of-the-art combined cycle gas plants, it would take nearly 40,000 acres of farmland. That is the size of my hometown, Richmond, VA.

The FERC regulatory approval process for siting and building new natural gas infrastructure has been receiving criticism of late. Every process can be improved, but on the whole, we have a very thorough and very transparent regulatory process – if it is allowed to work. The process is far from a rubber stamp. There are few infrastructure projects in this country that have to clear such a high bar as an interstate natural gas pipeline.

Pipelines are not built on speculation – there must be a demonstrated public need and benefit. The permitting process can take years and involve tens of thousands of pages of documentation and analysis. There is transparency to the point of information overload. Every stakeholder gets a voice through numerous public meetings and opportunities to comment in person and through written responses.

Multiple federal, state and local agencies have a say, either by participating in the FERC process or through their own permitting authority. We need more pipelines to accommodate the new demands, and the fact that our largest domestic gas production region has moved from the Southwest and Gulf of Mexico to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. A conservative estimate developed for the INGAA Foundation found a need for $2.2 billion to $3.6 billion in new natural gas pipeline investment every year through 2035. And that translates into 323,000 to 425,000 jobs per year.

The FERC regulatory process has evolved over time, but its core of testing first for true need and then finding the best path forward has served us well for almost 80 years. What happens if it grinds to a halt? Who wins? Nobody. I have yet to hear someone propose a workable regulatory process that is better. So, tweak the process if it makes sense, but let FERC do the job Congress gave it.

To advance my primary goal of moving us toward a shared vision of sound energy policy, I will work with INGAA members and others on three key initiatives:

  • Promoting public safety and protecting the environment, through the industry’s active engagement with regulatory agencies, including the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
  • Enhancing public understanding of the direct consumer benefits of natural gas, the role of pipelines in meeting the nation’s environmental and economic goals, and the extensive regulatory process that guides their permitting and operation.
  • Increasing the sharing of industry best practices, to further improve natural gas pipelines’ strong record of performance.

The interstate natural gas pipeline industry serves a vital purpose in delivering safe, reliable, economic energy to individual homes and businesses throughout North America. In addition, natural gas plays a critical role to the manufacturing sector and the electric industry to enable them to comply with both existing and proposed environmental initiatives, including the nation’s climate goals.

We need to better connect our industry’s big numbers – thousands of miles of pipelines, billions of dollars in private investment, decades of safe and effective service – with the benefits to individual homes and businesses. In the end, that is the reason we are here. And it is why the natural gas pipeline network will remain an important driver of our nation’s economic success for decades to come.

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