State Denies Request to Halt Construction of Cliffside Power Plant
NC Utilities Commission declines to conduct hearing, and signals that Duke Energy can keep building power plants to expand its outside customer base
Statement by NC WARN Director Jim Warren:
Durham, NC – We are very disappointed state utilities commissioners chose not to conduct a hearing into NC WARN’s request for revoking Duke Energy’s permission to construct the Cliffside plant. Today’s 17-page order seems to signal the Commission’s willingness to force North Carolina electricity customers to pay so Duke can expand its sales.
It is now clear that Duke’s rational for building the 800 megawatt coal unit is to extend sales outside the utility’s approved territory – and force current customers bear the financial, health and environmental burdens. The latest evidence is Duke’s contract to sell 1000 megawatts of power, at reduced prices, to five electric cooperatives in South Carolina – outside Duke’s service area.
In today’s order, the Commission agreed that it has the authority to reconsider Duke’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. But the panel sided with Duke Energy and the Public Staff – who both said there are flaws in our multi-faceted case – without allowing a hearing where we and other interveners could argue the merits. NC WARN’s May 5th motion for revocation and/or evidentiary hearing was backed by over two dozen nonprofit organizations.
Oddly, Duke and the Commission now argue Cliffside is needed for the short term energy needs, despite the fact that Duke’s retail energy sales have been flat for years. Duke even projects those sales to decline by 2014 due to the huge rate hike caused largely by the Cliffside project. For three years, Duke had insisted the $2.4 billion coal-burning unit is needed to serve long-term demand growth within its service area. CEO Jim Rogers’ changing tune has once again hit a flat note.
While Duke contends its peak demand is rising, such “maximum usage” days are covered by small, quick-fired plants. Cliffside is not being built for peak, but to expand Duke’s overall sales. And Duke’s evolving justification for Cliffside, the public relations line that the new unit will “replace” older polluting plants, continues to ring hollow because those tiny units are rarely used anymore, while Cliffside would run all the time.
The Commission seems to concur that since Duke has committed a billion dollars, the project should proceed. But this is throwing good money after bad, especially in an era of belated but increasing public awareness of the many external but devastating health and social costs of coal. Also, it is entirely reckless to be building Cliffside when climate change is already devastating many parts of the world, and when climate experts warn that society has only five years to begin reducing emissions to avoid runaway, catastrophic changes at a potentially “explosive” pace.
NC WARN and our allies will continue pressing the various court and commission cases against Cliffside, building the public opposition, and demanding that Governor Perdue enforce the Clean
Air Act. The facts and forecasts prove North Carolina ratepayers have no need for this plant.*
North Carolina should not develop its energy future so Duke Energy can add expensive new plants to its profit-making rate base. As our expert witness, Dr. John Blackburn, has demonstrated, North Carolina can and should be retiring coal plants, not gambling our future on new ones.**
* See EIGHT SEPARATE FACTORS PROVING CLIFFSIDE IS NOT NEEDED: https://www.ncwarn.org/?p=1334
** See Dr. Blackburn’s report at https://www.ncwarn.org/pdf/ncw_report_r8.pdf