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Duke Energy – Duke University Fracked Gas Plant Challenged at Utilities Commission — News Release from NC WARN

As three-year global heatwave continues, NC WARN calls for full, open review of proposal to build climate-wrecking power plant at Duke University   

Today NC WARN filed a motion to intervene in a precedent-setting case whereby Duke Energy seeks to build and operate a fracked gas-burning power plant on the campus of Duke University.  Among the many problems with the proposal, it would cause campus greenhouse gas emissions to soar, increase local air pollution, do little to enhance the reliability of campus power supply, and continue driving the highly destructive US fracking boom.

We’re calling on the NC Utilities Commission to conduct a full evidentiary proceeding and an open review of this project – avoiding the type of ongoing legal fight that has followed the fast-track approval of Duke Energy’s proposed fracked gas plant in Asheville.  Just as we’re proving in the Asheville fight, we will show that the utility giant cannot justify the need for the University plant because Duke Energy and surrounding utilities own many power plants that sit idle much of the year.

An evidentiary hearing is necessary to address many conflicting claims and problems, including:

  • University officials continue claiming the plant would reduce campus greenhouse emissions, a pretense based on the thin logic that Duke Energy – not the University itself – would own and burn the fracked gas for the plant.  In fact, the gas burned on and for the campus – and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions – would increase by 61%.
  • Duke Energy cannot openly justify the rate increases its general customers would bear for a plant that is mostly intended to benefit the private university.
  • University officials continue claiming the gas-fired plant might someday be converted to burn biogas from swine waste.  But last month the Utilities Commission indicated how unlikely that is, noting that such projects “have been challenging” since before 2007 due to technical and economic challenges.  In addition, creating electricity from swine waste would do virtually nothing to reduce air and water pollution plaguing communities across eastern North Carolina.
  • Duke Energy’s application to the Commission precedes a contract with the University, and key issues that could negatively impact customers remain unresolved.  For example, the University has said it will be allowed to demolish the power plant long before the end of its useful life.
  • University leaders did not realize the gas-CHP plant would burn mostly shale gas from the fracking fields*, and they insisted that’s not what Duke University wants.  We’re calling on President Brodhead to respect that sentiment by ending negotiations with Duke Energy.
  • Emissions of nitrous oxide – which leads to ground-level ozone – would be at least ten times greater than those from a similar plant at Cornell University, thus impacting 50,000 campus workers and residents along with people across the City of Durham.*
  • Duke University has a large amount of solar photovoltaic potential, and market pricing is lower than the University is now paying Duke Energy for power.*

In a report sent last Monday based on our technical assessment and meetings with University officials, we’re urging President Brodhead to use on-campus talent to assess clean energy options, and commit to an open discussion with the campus and community about the University’s energy opportunities.

NC WARN is urging him not to allow Duke University to be used by Duke Energy in an emerging national scheme to expand the burning of fracked gas, and instead to join Stanford and other universities who are developing clean-energy innovations.

This year is on track to far surpass the all-time global average heat record set in 2015 even as a series of widespread floods have struck eastern North Carolina since Labor Day, and as weather extremes continue ravaging communities around the world.  Leading scientists say methane leaking and venting from US natural gas wells and equipment is making global warming worse, and that it makes the burning of natural gas for electricity even worse for the climate than burning coal.

We’re calling on Dr. Brodhead to use his good name to inspire the public by taking assertive action to avert one of the greatest and most urgent challenges facing humanity: the accelerating climate crisis.  Duke University should join leading universities who are adopting innovations that could become a critical step toward stemming global warming before it passes a looming point of no return.


* NC WARN’s report to President Brodhead: Analysis of and Alternatives to the Proposed Duke University Natural Gas-Fired CHP Plant

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