Energy regulators agreed Friday that the state needs a $600-million pipeline proposed by a St. Petersburg company to bring natural gas from Mississippi across the Panhandle and into Central Florida.
The state Public Service Commission unanimously approved a request for a determination of need from SunShine Pipeline Co., a joint venture of subsidiaries of St. Petersburg-based Florida Power Corp., Coastal Corp. of Houston, and TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. of Calgary.
The line's biggest regulatory hurdles, involving its final location, lie ahead.
The 515-mile Florida portion of the pipeline would run from Okaloosa County in the Panhandle to Polk County, east of Tampa. A spur would cross Pasco County from northeast to southwest, passing in Pinellas through East Lake and Tarpon Springs en route to Florida Power's Anclote Plant.
In the Panhandle, the line would connect with a 170-mile line bringing gas from Pascagoula, Miss. SunShine has a request for approval of that interstate section pending with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The pipeline would be the second serving peninsular Florida, Public Service Commission officials noted.
"A second natural gas pipeline will create a competitive market for natural gas transmission that will provide significant strategic benefits for Florida's energy future," said PSC Chairman Terry Deason.
"The need in Florida for natural gas at competitive rates has never been greater," SunShine President E.
J. Burgin said.
The project now must be approved under Florida's Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Siting Act, which requires public hearings, reviews by local governments and state environmental officials, and final action by the governor and Cabinet.
The company told the PSC it would try to buy goods and services for the project in Florida, and the commission asked for periodic reports on Florida purchases and efforts to purchase from and hire minorities and women.
The proposed route would pass through Dixie, Gadsden, Gilchrest, Hardee, Hernando, Highlands, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lake, Leon, Levy, Madison, Marion, Okaloosa, Okeechobee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sumter, Taylor, Walton and Washington counties.