Gas pipeline upgrades planned to increase capacity to Hampton Roads 

Virginia Reliability and Virginia Electrification projects to be reviewed by federal regulators

By: - December 3, 2021 12:02 am
A ferry passes the General Dynamic shipyard in Norfolk. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A ferry passes the General Dynamics shipyard in Norfolk. Shipyards in Hampton Roads have lobbied for natural gas capacity in recent years. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Columbia Gas Transmission announced plans Wednesday to replace almost 50 miles of pipeline south of Petersburg and upgrade existing compressor stations to increase gas supply to the Hampton Roads region. 

“The community has outlined the need for the replacement of an existing line built in the 1950s in order to bring greater natural gas reliability to the region,” said Alex Stroman, manager of state government and community relations with TC Energy, the parent company of Columbia Gas Transmission. “The reality is that the area is experiencing significant economic growth that requires increased natural gas supply, and this project will help meet the needs of the community and our customers.” 

Under the Virginia Reliability Project, Columbia Gas Transmission will replace roughly 48 miles of “vintage” 12-inch pipeline laid seven decades ago with 24-inch steel pipeline. It will not involve new pipelines, which have proven contentious in Virginia.

Upgrades will also be made to the company’s compressor stations in Emporia and Petersburg, including the addition of a zero-emission electric compressor unit at Emporia. 

The project is considered a complementary effort to Columbia Gas Transmission’s planned Virginia Electrification Project. Announced in September, that project proposes to upgrade three compressor and meter stations on the company’s pipeline north of Petersburg, including the replacement of gas-powered units at the Goochland station with zero-emission electric ones fueled by renewable power. 

Together, the Virginia Reliability and Virginia Electrification Projects are expected to bring an additional 135 million cubic feet per day of natural gas capacity to central and southern Virginia. 

According to filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Columbia Gas of Virginia has signed an agreement to offtake the additional capacity provided north of Petersburg by the Virginia Electrification Project, while Virginia Natural Gas has done the same for the 100 million cubic feet per day of gas capacity that will be added through the Virginia Reliability Project south of Petersburg.

Virginia Natural Gas spokesperson Rick DelaHaya said in an email that the utility’s existing systems in the region “are already fully subscribed and operating at their capacity.”  

“Since the last significant capacity investment in Hampton Roads 30 years ago, Virginia Natural Gas has seen more than 73 percent growth in the number of customers,” he said. “This new natural gas capacity will help VNG address the region’s need for reliable and resilient energy to meet this organic growth in energy demand as well as support new economic development opportunities in southeast Virginia.”

Economic analysis by TC Energy concluded that construction of the Virginia Reliability Project would produce $7.7 million in local tax revenue, $8.6 million in state tax revenue, $562.6 million in overall economic impact and 3,635 jobs. The company’s plans have already racked up several state and local endorsements, including one from Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth. 

Both the Virginia Reliability and Virginia Electrification projects must be approved by FERC, which has oversight of interstate pipelines. 

Despite the similarities in their names, Columbia Gas Transmission is not affiliated with Columbia Gas of Virginia, a natural gas utility that serves about 65 percent of Virginia. 

The two do have a shared history. Until 2015, both Columbia Gas of Virginia and Columbia Gas Transmission were part of Indiana-based utility company NiSource. That year, however, NiSource spun off its gas transmission and storage assets into a separate company known as Columbia Pipeline Group. TransCanada Corporation, later named TC Energy, acquired those assets, including Columbia Gas Transmission, in 2016. 

Columbia Gas Transmission’s broader footprint includes 11,500 miles of pipeline spread over 10 states from New York in the north to just south of the Virginia-North Carolina border and east into Ohio and Kentucky. Over 1,100 miles of that system crosses Virginia. 

The company has steadily been increasing capacity in Virginia for the past decade through projects such as WB XPress and the Central Virginia Connector. 

Natural gas capacity, particularly in Hampton Roads, has been a hot-button issue in Virginia politics in recent years. 

Much of the support for Dominion Energy and Duke Energy’s now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline was linked to arguments that limited natural gas supply in the Hampton Roads region has constrained economic growth there. 

Atlantic Coast was designed to transport more than 1.4 billion cubic feet of gas to parts of Virginia and North Carolina. A July 2017 FERC review of alternatives stated that while three pipeline systems including Columbia Gas Transmission’s existed in the region, they did “not have the available capacity to transport the required volumes of natural gas to the delivery points proposed” or “the necessary infrastructure to transport gas to the required delivery points.”

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]

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