By Kelly Garvy, Guest Columnist
Earlier this year, Duke University unveiled its proposal to build a $55 million, 21-megawatt, natural gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) plant on its campus, to be owned and operated by Duke Energy. This plant has significant implications for Duke Energy ratepayers and citizens of North Carolina on everything from monthly utility bills to public health to climate action.
Before the Thanksgiving holiday, Zachary Kuznar with Duke Energy wrote a guest column defending the plant proposal. However, Kuznar has either misunderstood or misconstrued the concerns about this proposed CHP plant. His article claims the proposed power plant at Duke University would reduce Duke University’s consumption of natural gas and would return revenues generated by the steam plant to all customers. Duke faculty, staff, alumni and community members view these claims with skepticism due to the unreliable assumptions on which they are based. He also claimed that the opponents of this plant are “near-sighted in their view” and “haven’t offered a reliable, cost-effective solution.”
On the contrary, Duke University students, faculty and staff fear that this CHP plant is near-sighted. Furthermore, the non-transparent process that the University and Duke Energy engaged in has not allowed for a thorough evaluation of other energy alternatives from students, faculty and staff. As a result, over 1,000 Duke University students, faculty, and alumni, as well as community organizations and citizens, have called for the end of this plant proposal.
The purported “environmental benefits” of the plant are based on a number of assumptions. One glaring problem is that emissions from the proposed plant itself are not included in the environmental assessment. Kuznar’s claim that “the university will use 50 percent less natural gas to create steam” is misleading. The amount of natural gas burned in existing university-owned systems may decrease, but, with the new plant, total gas burned on campus will increase overall. Furthermore, the production of gas burned at these plants also results in significant leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. These methane emissions are also not included in Duke Energy’s assessment of the environmental impact of the proposed plant.