Court suggests FERC is derelict of duty about pipelines including Sabal Trail

Two judges accused FERC of not doing its duty. At stake: shutting down Sabal Trail, and maybe reforming FERC, in oral arguments today on Sierra Club, Flint Riverkeeper, and Chattachoochee Riverkeeper v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Case No. 16-1329 in the U.S. DC Court of Appeals.

Lena Moffit, Sierra Club Florida News, 18 April 2017, Sierra Club attorneys argue against Sabal Trail gas pipeline at DC Circuit Court of Appeals,

Judge [Judith W.] Rogers said at one point to the FERC lawyer, regarding their need to assess the full climate impacts of the project, “So, FERC just doesn’t have to do it’s duty because it thinks someone else will?”

Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E News, 18 April 2017, Judge slams FERC’s climate review,

[Judge Thomas B.] Griffith also appeared skeptical of FERC’s position, asking Fulton and counsel for industry intervenors why they were so resistant to the idea of attempting to quantify downstream emissions.

“It wouldn’t have been hard to do, right, with all that information available?” he asked Fulton.

Fulton responded that “it would not have been hard to do, but it would have been hard to do in a meaningfully informative way,” because it is difficult to estimate how much of the project’s natural gas would be used to replace coal in power plants.


LLNL estimates only about 28% of Florida electricity came from coal in 2014 (see figure above).

FPL has been shutting down coal plants since then, leaving only a smaller number left that Sabal Trail gas could possibly be used to convert.

And why depend on third-party sources? NextEra, FPL’s parent, is a part-owner of Sabal Trail. FERC could make them cough up hard numbers.

Of course, it actually is hard to quantify donwstream emissions, since pipelines, compressor stations, and gas plants leak unpredictably, but Sabal Trail doesn’t want to talk about that.

Whatever the actual number is, it’s way higher than the zero emissions generating power with solar panels would produce. That should be the real comparison; a comparison Sabal Trail and FERC studiously avoided ever entertaining seriously.

Sabal Trail’s one stab at considering solar power that I know of gave me much of what I needed to demonstrate that half of Sabal Trail’s acreage could generate just as much electricity through solar power.

And that was at 2014 solar prices.

For current solar prices, by the most conservative comparison I can come up with, for the $3.2 billion price tag for Sabal Trail and FSC, FPL could buy 5 times as much electricity from solar power, with no emissions, no emminent domain, no drilling under rivers or through wetlands, and no risk of leaks or explosions.

Maybe my numbers aren’t perfect. But where is Sabal Trail, FPL, or FERC’s similar comparison?

Oh, right, in its 2 February 2016 Order giving Sabal Trail a certificate of convenience and necessity (and federal eminent domain) FERC wrote:

“85. We also have no reason to contest Florida Power & Light’s purported demand for natural gas. The Florida Public Service Commission issued an order finding that Florida Power & Light had demonstrated a need for additional firm capacity.”

Back in 2013 FPL convinced the Florida PSC of that need by claiming Florida needed 13% more electricity over the following decade.

Yet in its April 2016 Ten Year Plan FPL admitted in boldface in the Executive Summary that:

“Difference: FPL does not project a significant long-term additional resource need until the years 2024 and 2025.”

Seems like FERC needs to revisit its paragraph 88.

And maybe somebody ought to sue FL-PSC, as well.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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2 thoughts on “Court suggests FERC is derelict of duty about pipelines including Sabal Trail

  1. Concerned Reisdent

    I would like to know why the Sabal Palm construction crew is providing ZERO dust abatement measures north of C.R. 6 installation along S.R. 143 North. I have videos showing the dust generated by the machinery, and also the terrible vibration caused by machinery. Many residents along the pipeline route live in mobile homes and the vibration is enough to require re-leveling of homes. As a side note, the route is NOT being patrolled three times a week as required.

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