Canadian energy giant ATCO has emerged as a potential white knight for the proposed extension of the Dampier to Bunbury pipeline to Albany, with its local managing director saying the project could proceed without a major foundation customer.
Steven Landry said like other utilities, ATCO's normal 30-year investment horizon meant it did not need a big industrial user for the gas on day one to underpin the $450 million project - as has been mooted.
"We think it's very feasible and we have had some minor discussions with Government in terms of our ability to participate in that," he said.
"It is possible to put a pipeline in without a huge end user on the other end. It is not as economic, but it is possible. What we do is start by looking at the simplest and least expensive solution.
"It could scale up later, because there is an opportunity for future power generation in Albany, for example."
The State Government pledged in 2008 to extend the pipeline from Bunbury to Albany to end the former whaling port's reliance on bottled gas, and to spur industry in the South West.
But the project has been beset by Government delays and a near-doubling in its expected price.
In May, the Government finally gave up on its attempt to get iron ore producer Grange Resources to be the foundation customer for the pipeline to power its planned $2.9 billion mine near Albany.
Grange wants to use a power line from Collie to draw on cheaper coal-fired electricity, which it says would take less time to build than the pipeline.
Premier Colin Barnett said last week that the Government would proceed with the pipeline project, and pledged to unveil details before the March election.
ATCO announced its arrival as a major force in the WA energy sector last July, when it bought WA Gas Networks from WestNet Infrastructure Group and the listed DUET Group for about $1 billion, including assuming a $644 million debt.
Mr Landry also hinted at another potential attraction of a possible ATCO Albany pipeline bid: the company's financial strength is likely to mean it will not need a Government subsidy to make the venture viable.
"Because we have an A-credit rating and a strong balance sheet, we can take a longer tenor on our return and therefore we look at something like this which may seem pretty expensive up front, but we are willing to take our return over a longer period of time, and we usually own and operate things," he said.
"At ATCO we look at things in terms of 30-plus years. We amortise our pipelines that way."So when we look at the population of Albany today we model numbers 30 years into the future, and from population growth try to estimate how much (energy use) can be around it. Then we look at the area and there are opportunities for mining that is around not only the Albany area that could create jobs but also where a gas pipeline may come in handy."