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The importance of reliable energy in Hampton Roads

The importance of reliable energy in Hampton Roads
The importance of reliable energy in Hampton Roads
The importance of reliable energy in Hampton Roads

AS LEADERS of the top three regional organizations charged with supporting and expanding the Hampton Roads economy, we are compelled to speak up about the importance of the Southside Connector distribution pipeline project.

We cannot be more clear: The Southside Connector is critical to the economic stability and future growth of Hampton Roads. There is no reasonable argument against this.

Hampton Roads’ current natural gas system is barely able to meet existing customers’ needs. Businesses and military installations have been forced to turn off their natural gas service so that Virginia Natural Gas can maintain uninterrupted service to residential customers during periods of extreme cold, when demand is highest. This uncertainty creates financial risk for employers, employees and the region.

This sends a ripple through our economy when production and wages are diminished or a more expensive fuel is substituted. Energy-intensive businesses are discouraged by the lack of system reliability and choose not to locate or expand here. In the city of Suffolk, for example, the economic development department has reported losing an estimated $4 billion in new investment and 11,000 jobs because the city lacks access to sufficient natural gas supplies.

The Southside Connector will connect the region’s two natural gas supply lines. They currently operate independently, which leaves Hampton Roads businesses and residents vulnerable to serious disruption should upstream problems occur. This is not a theoretical problem. Service disruptions have come dangerously close to creating massive outages in recent years, and there is no backup plan. The nine-mile Southside Connector solves this problem by connecting the two supply pipelines serving Hampton Roads, providing Virginia Natural Gas with a tool to offset upstream issues on either line, but also to meet the growing demand for gas in the region.

Natural gas is the No. 1 fuel source today for electricity generation in the United States. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has credited the increased use of natural gas as a replacement for coal in the nation’s effort to reduce carbon emissions. Natural gas emits about 40 percent less carbon dioxide compared to coal, and it is the fuel source preferred by manufacturers and many other major employers because it is cleaner, abundant and very affordable. This allows businesses to save on energy costs and, in turn, invest those savings into their businesses, pass them on to consumers, or both.

Natural gas pipelines are widely recognized by the federal government and industry as the safest way to transport natural gas. Currently, more than 2.5 million miles of energy pipelines run through the United States, and more than 20,000 miles of natural gas pipelines operate safely in Virginia. This network has an excellent safety record that rivals any industry. Pipelines such as the Southside Connector operate reliably every day, right under our feet in Hampton Roads and across the country in highly urbanized settings and across long stretches of rural countryside. We take for granted this nearly invisible infrastructure that is so important to our comfort and prosperity.

Working together as one region is the only way the cities, counties and residents of Hampton Roads will succeed in diversifying our economy, expanding our existing businesses and attracting new ones. If we are serious about growing our economy, we must pay attention to the critical and regional infrastructure needs that drive it, and that includes access to a reliable and adequate supply of natural gas. Businesses need consistency in order to operate smoothly and plan for the future. Communities must plan for the infrastructure needed to create that consistency.

Hampton Roads’ energy assets are a key driver of job creation, growth and competitiveness throughout the economy, and we must work together with existing businesses, residents and other stakeholders as a community to safely develop our regional energy infrastructure.

The Southside Connector is nearly 90 percent complete. It has been discussed publicly for more than 2½ years, and has earned every regulatory approval necessary for its construction and operation.

We must keep moving forward and complete this project to help secure the economic future of Hampton Roads.

The article can be found here.

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