Progress and Duke Energy will also close dozens of coal units within a few years as North Carolina begins moving away from old energy
Statement by Executive Director Jim Warren: **
Durham, NC – Progress Energy now admits it may cancel plans to build two nuclear reactors at its Shearon Harris facility near Raleigh, North Carolina. Newly filed long-range planning documents also show that Progress and Duke Energy – two of the nation’s largest power companies, both headquartered in North Carolina – plan to close dozens of coal-fired units over the next few years.
Both companies’ actions reflect a rapidly shifting energy landscape and a fast faltering nuclear power “renaissance” that is suffering budget-busting cost increases, serious design problems, and the failure of utilities to win massive taxpayer loans. Every nuclear project in the nation has been either delayed or cancelled.
The flagging of the nuclear revival has major, positive ramifications for climate stabilization. This shift by Progress and Duke is very hopeful because coal plants are the leading cause of global warming, and the pursuit of new nuclear plants is making climate change worse by squandering the time and money needed to expand energy efficiency and clean power generation. And because southern utilities are blocking clean energy advances so they can try to build nuclear reactors.
NC WARN is calling on both Progress Energy and Duke Energy to join the growing clean energy revolution that is crucial for protecting our climate and rebuilding our economy.
Based on Progress’ filing with the NC Utilities Commission, we believe there is a very low chance the company will try to build the two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at Harris. Among the reasons:
• The utility describes three scenarios for its long-range supply, one of which can be discarded because it relies on hypothetical “low nuclear construction costs,” which is an extremely unlikely prospect.
• A second scenario excludes any new nuclear power.
• The “A” scenario supposes Progress would own a 25% share in an unnamed nuclear project. We don’t believe anyone would buy the other 75% of a nuclear plant Progress Energy tries to build at Harris, especially since dozens of towns remain saddled with debt from buying into Shearon Harris and Duke Energy’s Catawba plant in the 1980s. It’s more likely that Progress hopes to buy into Duke’s Lee plant if construction ever begins and could be completed.
A key question is how long Progress will continue the expensive process of seeking a federal license to build and operate new Harris reactors while still hoping to recover many millions in such “pre-development” costs from ratepayers. Duke Energy already received state approval to charge customers $160 million in such costs for two Westinghouse reactors at its Lee site in South Carolina, even though both a license and construction are years away.
For now, both utilities plan to expand usage of natural gas to generate power, which NC WARN views as unfortunate and unnecessary. North Carolina can close the rest of its coal plants without adding natural gas. That’s because, as proven by other states and utilities, practical increases in efficiency-conservation can steadily lower usage. Also, 2010 research by Dr. John Blackburn shows that solar and wind power – when used in combination – can supply 75% of North Carolina’s electricity needs.*
Retail demand for both Duke and Progress has remained essentially flat for years. Long-term demand for old, hazardous electricity will likely continue to fall due to structural declines in the national economy, a belated but increasing public awareness of the climate emergency, and a steady shift toward clean energy. Rising electricity prices from building nuclear and fossil-fuel plants would further diminish energy usage.
While today’s news reflects a hopeful trend for our climate, health and economy, the world’s leading climate scientists are calling for dramatic, rapid action to cut emissions.
So southern utility CEOs need to join the clean energy revolution that is underway in many countries and U.S. states where energy markets are competitive – instead of using their monopoly status to impede the growth of efficiency and renewable power.
* Dr. Blackburn, who is retired as both chancellor and economics department chairman at Duke University, continues leading NC WARN’s team analyzing Duke and Progress filings of Integrated Resource Plans. See his analyses of wind-solar capacity in NC, and how solar power is now cheaper than new nuclear power, at www.ncwarn.org
** See today’s story by Raleigh’s News & Observer: