Economic development depends on infrastructure

Published 10:53 pm Friday, August 16, 2019

By Jim Kibler and Brent Archer

Our two natural gas utilities have a long history of providing clean, safe, reliable and affordable local distribution service to about one-quarter of the homes, businesses and government facilities throughout our service territories that cover much of Virginia. Both of our utilities have subscribed to service from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, because the existing upstream pipelines that serve our regions are fully contracted and cannot accommodate additional economic growth.

Natural gas is used in Virginia’s homes and businesses for cooking, space heating, water heating, electric generation, manufacturing processes, and as a raw material for the development of many products each of us uses every day. It is a cornerstone of our economy. Regional economic growth has created a demand for natural gas that has outpaced the infrastructure that transports it here from areas where it is produced.

Email newsletter signup

Readers may have read reports that the lack of natural gas transportation infrastructure has caused problems for the Northeast U.S., including New York City and Boston. In New York City, the regional gas utility has been forced to deny any new connections for natural gas service; and the Boston area now imports liquified natural gas from Russia to serve its winter demand.

Natural gas transportation capacity constraints in Central and Southeastern Virginia have not quite reached that critical state, but we are closer than many realize. Virginia Natural Gas has been forced to curtail service to the largest employers in Hampton Roads numerous times over the last few years because the region’s interstate pipelines do not have sufficient capacity to serve all customers on the coldest winter days. Columbia Gas is now forced to contemplate a similar scenario in areas that it serves.

Our regions and the Commonwealth have been hard at work developing inventories of building sites suitable for new employers and expansions of existing businesses, yet the existing gas transportation capacity cannot serve the expected demand for most of those sites. And while both of our companies have manufacturing customers that are ready, willing and able to expand operations and create jobs for Virginians, Virginia’s current infrastructure cannot accommodate the additional gas that they require.

As readers and policymakers encounter arguments that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not a critical infrastructure improvement project, we invite them to consider these facts and ask if, as a Commonwealth, we want to be able to account for economic growth. The recent ranking of Virginia as the No. 1 state for business will be short-lived if we do not build the energy infrastructure that is necessary to create and sustain jobs.

This project is crucial for economic development in many regions of Virginia. And without it, our economic future is uncertain at best — and crippling at worst.

Brent Archer is the president of Columbia Gas of Virginia, based in Chester. Jim Kibler is the president of Virginia Natural Gas, based in Virginia Beach.