By John Downey
Duke Energy Corp. customers in the Carolinas looking for relief from rate hikes are likely to be disappointed over the next several years.
That is particularly true for customers at Duke Energy Progress, which forecasts the need for as many as five new natural gas plants between now and 2022. That could mean construction of 3,280 megawatts of new capacity over that time.
Duke Energy Carolinas has agreed not to seek any additional rate increases until 2015. But starting that year, the utility plans to convert one unit of its shuttered Lee Steam Station from coal to a 170-megawatt natural gas plant. And it foresees the need to add 1,926 megawatts of gas-fueled power generation by 2022 — which it proposes in as many as three plants to be built between 2016 and 2022.
That’s the upshot of the 15-year forecast proposed in long-range plans each utility filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission last week.
The majority of new capacity the utilities foresee now will be generated by natural gas facilities, mostly high-efficiency combined-cycle plants.
At current prices for gas plant construction, Duke Progress’ proposed new capacity over the next nine years could cost $3 billion or more to build. Duke Carolinas’ proposed increased capacity would cost about $1.8 billion.
Those expenses would eventually go into rates charged to utility customers.
Critics bridle at Duke’s continued reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear. Jim Warren, executive director of environmental and consumer watchdog group NC WARN, calls the planned increase in the use of renewables to about 3% of sales by 2028 “puny.”
Even using what the sister utilities call the “environmental focus scenario,” which calls for larger renewable energy purchases and for the utilities to build more renewable capacity, the total would grow to just 7%. “We just see that as a non-commitment,” Warren says.