Duke Energy says the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline is on track to open in late 2019, even though it's still awaiting final state and federal approvals. But CEO Lynn Good said delays and more stringent conditions from regulators have pushed the project's price tag up - to between $6 billion and $6.5 billion.
Duke Energy, along with lead developer Dominion Energy of Virginia, previously said the pipeline would cost $5 billion.
The pipeline is being built to deliver fracked natural gas from West Virginia to customers in Virginia and North Carolina. The pipeline faces opposition from environmental groups, who argue in part that it's not needed. Good told analysts on a conference call Tuesday that's not true.
"During the record cold weather in early January heavy demand to heat homes, hospitals and industrial building caused natural gas prices to soar, due to gas transportation constraints in North Carolina," Good said. "This provides a clear reminder that ACP will serve as an important source of natural gas for our region and will help provide significant savings for customers."
Tree clearing and other preliminary work have already begun along the pipeline route, with permission from federal regulators. The project recently won approval from the Army Corps of Engineers. It still needs other federal and state approvals.
Good told analysts she expects last year's acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas and the start of service on the pipeline to help the gas division become a bigger contributor to Duke's profits.
Also Tuesday, Good announced that Duke plans to convert a third coal-fired power plant to burn a mix of natural gas and coal. Piedmont Natural Gas will build a gas pipeline to the Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman over the next two years. Two other plants are also being converted to what's called "dual fuel" use - Belews Creek north of Greensboro and the Rogers/Cliffside complex in Rutherford County.
"Our three dual-fuel projects announced at the last year represent a $500 million investment from both Duke Energy Carolinas and Piedmont and demonstrate the complementary nature of our franchises and advantages of joint planning," Good said.
The upgrades will help Duke reduce carbon emissions and cut costs for customers, she said.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline website, atlanticcoastpipeline.com
CORRECTION: A photo caption accompanying this story has been corrected to note that pipeline construction has not begun.