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Greenville News Op-Ed: Piedmont Natural Gas is 'hiding the ball' on proposed new pipeline - October 3rd 2021

This was originally published as an opinion-editorial by The Greenville News. To read it on The Greenville News website, click here.

Piedmont Natural Gas wants to force a pipeline through northern Greenville County, and it’s all about the money.

 Piedmont Natural Gas is wholly owned by Duke Energy. Both Duke and Piedmont make money when they build hardware like a pipeline: They build it, and then they charge us for the cost of construction plus a guaranteed profit. That is because they are monopolies created by the Legislature. They don’t even compete against each other, because Duke Energy bought up Piedmont several years ago.

In 2014, Duke Energy embarked on a venture with Dominion Energy to build a huge pipeline through Virginia and North Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and Duke Energy projected big earnings from its construction. But the project flopped in 2020.

When pressed by big investors as to how Duke Energy was going to make up the loss, Duke’s CEO told the hedge funds that Duke Energy was going to build out Piedmont Natural Gas’ pipelines. Within days of Duke Energy announcing the failure of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Piedmont notified the SC Public Service Commission of its intent to build this line in northern Greenville County.

If Piedmont builds the pipeline, Duke Energy would get the profits, and we would pay the bill. After first saying it didn’t know how much the pipeline would cost, Piedmont now says that it will cost $35 million to $70 million, not counting the substantial profit that Piedmont would charge to ratepayers – and we would pick up the tab.

Piedmont is telling us that this project is about reliability and service. But we’ve heard this story before. 

Just a few years ago, Duke Energy wanted to build a huge power line through northern Greenville and Spartanburg counties, and, just like Piedmont now, Duke told us that the powerline was needed for “reliability” and service. The public rose up, and Duke backed down. And the lights have stayed on. 

 And the worse news is that we would be paying more than cash for this proposed pipeline. This pipeline would slash across some of the most beautiful parts of Greenville County – pastures, streams, hillsides, farms, and family heritage properties. It would promote development where residents do not want it. 

Piedmont now says, too, that it is planning to serve dense subdivisions in northern Greenville County. But that is exactly the kind of destructive sprawl that northern Greenville County does not want, as stressed by the hundreds of residents who participated last year in debate about the Greenville County Comprehensive Land Use Plan to limit development exactly where this pipeline would run.

Piedmont also says it would use eminent domain to put the line through someone’s property if the property owner did not want it. This process would trample over private property rights.

And Piedmont is hiding the ball. It hasn’t released a map showing the parcels it plans to seize or cut through when it builds its line, and it has turned down requests to release the information and the model on which it bases its claims. Piedmont has not held a hearing where the public could express its views, but instead has held tightly controlled virtual meetings with required pre-registration, limited attendance, and screened questions. 

Piedmont notified property owners of the meetings by sending them the most junky-looking piece of junk mail, with no mention on the envelope of Piedmont Natural Gas or the purpose of the letter. In advance of the virtual broadcasts, Piedmont provided no substantive information about the reasons for the route. The virtual presentations were a prepared public relations exercise loaded with jargon and talking points, without transparency.

Piedmont says that it has fears about its operations in the City of Greenville as the city grows. If that’s true, Piedmont needs to fix its problems in the city and operate a system that can properly serve the people connected to it. 

But we shouldn’t sacrifice northern Greenville County to help Piedmont make more money in the city and to make up for Duke’s mistake in trying to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

One bad pipeline shouldn’t lead to another.

Frank Holleman is senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. Andrea Cooper is executive director of Upstate Forever. Julie Turner is a member of Friends of Northern Greenville County.

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