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Florida City Gas: Island on track for 2023 hookup

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of September 29, 2022)

The pipeline contractor hired to bring natural gas to the barrier island still awaits environmental permits needed to cross the Indian River Lagoon, but Florida City Gas is pushing forward with a transmission line along A1A in expectation that the permits will indeed materialize in time to connect customers in 2023.

When Florida City Gas representatives approached the Indian River Shores Town Council back in February with no permits in hand, hoping to negotiate a franchise agreement with the town, Shores officials told them to come back when they got the permits.

“The Peninsula Pipeline Company is leading permitting efforts with the FDEP for the Indian River Lagoon crossing, and are awaiting their issuance.  PPC will be able to move forward with the Indian River Lagoon crossing once those permits have been secured,” said spokesperson Brianna Patterson.

“Meanwhile, Florida City Gas continues construction of gas lines needed to serve local residents and businesses with the goal of commencing service sometime in 2023. We’re excited about bringing service to all island residents in the near future and will communicate updates to local residents as the work progresses,” Florida City Gas and Florida Power & Light spokesperson Briana Soriano said.

The new target date for the completion of the river crossing pipeline, which FCG refers to as the “main line.” is March 2023.

“From the main line, Florida City Gas will begin its expansion into municipalities and to interested communities and will continue for at least four years following the completion of the PPC mainline. We have plans to expand service to the new Seaglass development by GHO Homes, and we are targeting new construction projects in and around The Strand development,” Soriano said.

“We plan on installing facilities to expand into the Vero Beach commercial district and we anticipate working with the John’s Island Homeowners Association around the potential for expanding into their development as early as summer of 2023.”

But there’s been no franchise agreement signed with Indian River Shores yet, as officials still need to see those permits first.

“As the PPC main line commenced construction, we reached out to Indian River Shores Town Manager Jim Harpring, requesting that we work together to set up a meeting with his counsel and ours to reengage in discussions,” Soriano said.

Harpring said on Monday that nothing has been placed on a council agenda yet regarding the franchise agreement, but that he had been contacted about some equipment that would need to be located in the town, possibly on property that FPL already uses as a substation.

Patterson clarified that Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the only permitting agency they are waiting on, and that no permits are needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Florida Inland Navigation District or the St. Johns River Water Management District.

“The river crossing, as well as the line currently under construction along A1A, are part of the main line, a high-pressure distribution feeder line, which is what FCG will later connect to and build distribution around to serve local communities,” Patterson said.

“Construction on Phase 2, which is the section running along A1A south from CR 510, is what is currently being installed by PPC. Once PPC receives the FDEP permits, construction will begin on Phase 1, which will include the lagoon crossing as well as the installation along CR 510 from the Wabasso Bridge to A1A.”

Of all the various construction projects along A1A, the crews working near Wabasso are running the gas line. That construction began Sept. 12.

“Currently, the pipeline contractor has pipe strung out and sections welded along the east side of A1A from the Disney Vero Beach Resort south to approximately the Grand Harbor Beach Clubhouse. They also have pipe strung out and welded on the south side of Wabasso Road/CR 510 from west of the new Seaglass development for approximately 500 feet,” Soriano said.

Florida City Gas says traffic impacts should be minimal, but that at some point the gas line construction will shift to the west side of A1A.

What about Orchid, Windsor, Summerplace and the other neighborhoods north of the Wabasso Causeway? They are in the proposed service area, too, if enough people are interested in natural gas.

“FCG will build facilities to serve areas north of CR510 once firm requests from those communities have been received. FCG will have an interconnection with the PPC mainline in the CR510 and A1A area that will enable FCG to serve the various communities south and north of CR510,” Soriano said.

Florida City Gas also is set to make a presentation to the Vero Beach City Council on Tuesday. City Clerk Tammy Bursick said “they are scheduled to be on the agenda for the Oct. 4 meeting.  I have a PowerPoint presentation that they will be showing. From what I understand it is just for information purposes.”

The PowerPoint file Bursick was given appears to be the same one presented to the Shores Town Council, as it includes a section on temporary Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)  trailers – a concept the gas company had pitched as a way to service residents until the river crossing was completed.

Soriano said trailers are no longer in the short-term plans for the barrier island.

“We have a CNG trailer at The Strand.  However, at this time we’re not pursuing the use of CNG trailers at other communities. If the completion of the PPC line is unexpectedly delayed, we may revisit additional CNG trailers in the future,” she said.

The gas provider, which is owned by Florida Power & Light’s parent company NextEra Energy, is working on signing up gated communities and property owner associations from Windsor to Central Beach. Eventually, natural gas will be available to Vero’s Ocean Drive restaurants, hotels and office buildings.

Florida City Gas has a pending rate case before the Florida Public Service Commission, so a new rate structure is expected to be in place in early 2023 before barrier island customers join the system.

With regard to the global natural gas market and how that may show up in natural gas prices here at home, Soriano said: “The impact that Europe has had on the price of energy across the board continues to be felt. However, we do not expect the European situation to play a major role in future natural gas cost increases.

“Regardless, the price of all sources of energy are impacted by the world economy, therefore the advantages that natural gas provides, compared to other energy sources, has, is, and will continue to be a selling point. One of the most important benefits that natural gas provides is an inexhaustible and highly reliable source of energy in the event of a major storm, which over the years has proven to be the case.”