By John Downey
Two N.C. environmental groups have asked state regulators to let them participate in a review of Duke Energy’s proposed natural gas plant in Asheville, raising objections to part of the utility’s plan.
Duke Energy Progress wants permission from the N.C. Utilities Commission to approve a natural gas plant that could have a capacity of up to 752-megawatts. It wants to build two highly efficient 280-megawatt combined cycle natural gas units at the Asheville Plant on Lake Julian to replace the 379-megawatt coal plant currently on the site.
Duke Energy revised plans for its proposed Asheville natural gas plant to meet objections raised to a planned transmission line to the plant. Now some environmental groups want additional revisions.
But Duke also wants permission to build a less efficient 192-megawatt combustion gas unit at the site in the future. Duke says it may not have to build that unit if it can work with Asheville and local advocacy groups to reduce the growth of demand in the region. But it wants permission to build the unit now.
The Sierra Club and MountainTrue don’t want that part of the project approved.
“We want Duke to be all in on seeking alternatives to the third unit instead of building in a back door (for its construction),” says Julie Mayfield, co-director of MountainTrue. “We are asking them to send a clear message that they are fully committed to finding cleaner, sustainable alternatives by removing the peaking unit from their filing to the utilities commission.”
Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club says instead of seeking permission for the third unit, Duke should “include a specific financial commitment to measurable energy efficiency goals as part of the … application.”
D.J. Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which will represent the two groups in the commission proceedings, notes the General Assembly passed legislation last spring that requires the commission to act on Duke’s proposed plant within 45 days of Duke’s formal application, expected next month.
He says he is skeptical of including the 192 megawatt unit.
“The General Assembly gave Duke a fast track for review of this proposal – but not a free pass to overbuild its new fossil fuel plant and stick its customers with the bill,” he said.