North Carolina needs careful and open review, not secretive, fast-track approval of a climate-wrecking, high-dollar power plant that would add to regional glut of supply
Duke Energy is pressing North Carolina regulators for a fast-track, rubber-stamp approval to build a huge gas-fired power plant in Asheville that isn’t even needed, a project that would accelerate the climate crisis and cause statewide electricity rates to jump.
Duke submitted a confidential version of its application to regulators late on this holiday Friday (the public version was not available at 5pm). The $1 billion-plus Asheville plant is the first step of a major shift to fracking gas by Duke Energy – a shift North Carolina nonprofits and national experts are gearing up to block.
A new, unprecedented state law written by or for Duke Energy, and pushed through by Sen. Tom Apodaca, requires the NC Utilities Commission to rule on the nearly 800 MW project 45 days after the application is filed. But the Commission has the authority and duty to deny the application – by deeming it incomplete until Duke Energy turns over all relevant information and evidentiary hearings are conducted.
Earlier today, the Commission denied the NC WARN-Climate Times motion for a careful, open process including an evidentiary hearing. The ruling reduces the pressure for Duke to openly justify this hotly contested project. We are considering various next steps.
This project is not about “replacing coal” as Duke Energy claims. It’s about Duke building plants, raising rates and selling more electricity across the Carolinas. Duke’s Asheville plan would result in over 1120 MW of capacity at the site, compared to the 182 MW used there in 2014.*
The latest federal data continue to show a large amount of excess generation capacity among neighboring utilities and within Duke’s own system.
Already, Duke Energy is slow in responding to data requests by NC WARN and The Climate Times. We are working with several national experts to investigate the costs and impacts of this project. And we are convinced that Duke cannot justify this new plant.
The Utilities Commission shouldn’t cut itself off at the knees by letting Duke avoid a careful review and hide vital information from the public.
The coal-burning units must be closed. But the latest science shows the inevitability of huge price volatility with natural gas, and that gas for electricity is even worse than coal in driving the climate crisis due to large amounts of methane leakage throughout drilling and handling of gas.
NC WARN and allies have an emergency complaint pending with Attorney General Roy Cooper, calling for him to use his policing authority to alter Duke Energy’s corporate charter. Developments in the Asheville project increase the need for Cooper to act against Duke’s influence over state government. Duke Energy must not be allowed to hide from open scrutiny of its fracking gas future.
Duke should rapidly phase out its coal-fired plants – not just the smaller, little-used ones – stop expanding fracked gas, and stop colluding with the Koch brothers to limit the growth of renewables and efficiency measures that can truly decarbonize the Carolinas.
* The 379 MW of coal capacity Duke Energy proposes to close were used 46% of the time in 2014, and the two existing 185 MW gas/diesel turbines, which will remain in service, were used an average of 2.3% of the time in 2014.