Groups file motion to compel disclosure in Asheville gas case, decry sorry public process
Statement by Director Jim Warren:
Durham, NC – Duke Energy is withholding from public view large blocks of information critical to the utility’s case to build a large gas-fired power plant in Asheville. NC WARN and The Climate Times today filed a motion calling for regulators to compel Duke to put the data on the table for scrutiny.
The hidden information includes blacked-out sections of Duke’s application along with data it refused to provide in response to our first discovery request regarding the need for the plant, construction risks and complexities and operating costs for the $1.1 billion project.
Duke is not providing support for its PR claims that the Asheville area will run out of power without the three new gas units for which it’s seeking approval. This latest failure to be transparent in such a hotly contested case further supports our position that Duke cannot openly justify the project.
We are calling on the news media, civic leaders and the public to join our demand for evidentiary hearings where critics can question Duke – with all information on the table. If Duke cannot make its case and answer the concerns of national experts openly, the NC Utilities Commission is legally required to deny the application.
Based on what is available in the application and discovery replies from Duke, we remain convinced that the new plant is not needed due to a glut of regional generation available, that it would speed global warming due to large methane leakage throughout the natural gas industry, and that it would cause rate spikes for all Duke Energy customers due to the extreme price and supply volatility of gas.
Today’s motion also repeats our earlier calls for the Commission to pause the 45-day review clock – required by a new state law written by or for Duke Energy – until all data is available to the public. Other state agencies pause the clock until permit applications are complete.
NOTE: Duke and regulators will claim that some of the hidden information could be available to our attorney if he signs a confidentiality agreement. We refuse to take that bait because it would further frustrate transparency by making it unlawful for him to disclose anything to us or the public.
Some of the information withheld from public view:
NEED FOR THE PLANT
The application actually states what we have long claimed: The new plant would serve both Carolinas – not just the Asheville area as local officials were led to believe. This is not about “replacing coal.” Duke hid the majority of the attachment that argues the plant is needed. And it refused to provide any study or analysis, in response to our discovery request, to substantiate its claim that regional winter peak will grow by 17% in the next decade.
As we earlier asserted, federal data show that regional utilities have double the level of standby power than industry guidelines call for – even during the winter peak! Duke plans to continue to over-build power plants we don’t need and raise rates to do so.
NOT SUPPORTING THE CLAIM THAT ASHEVILLE COULD RUN SHORT
Duke Energy officials have claimed it must build large local plants to keep the lights on in Asheville – even though more than half the city’s power currently comes from other plants in Duke’s territory. Duke refused to provide information about the availability of other plants to handle Asheville demand, or about the amount of available transmission capacity so that the public can understand how much, and where, power outside of Asheville can come from.
NC WARN calculates that Duke Energy’s plan would result in 1,116 MW of capacity at Asheville – six times the power generated there in 2014.
COSTS AND RISKS OF CONSTRUCTION
Duke refuses to provide any cost information except the total estimated price tag. We didn’t ask for a detailed breakdown, only broad categories. If approved, this would be a complicated, multi-pronged construction project built atop land that is now a coal ash pit – on a mountain that creates staging and engineering challenges. Duke Energy is hoping the public will trust its cost-estimating competence, including excavation of a contaminated coal ash site – something Duke has never done successfully.
COSTS, RISKS AND RELIABILITY OF GAS
Duke refused to provide any information on its accuracy for estimating fuel costs in the past or for the future. It won’t even provide broad high, medium and low fuel cost estimates despite a national marketplace where analysts warn of extreme volatility of price and supply due to a Ponzi scheme amid the fracking industry. And Duke Energy in Florida lost $1.4 billion “hedging” natural gas from 2002 through 2015 – betting incorrectly on future prices.
Duke Energy is a monopoly with guaranteed profit – a benefit designed to cover risk. In return, it is not allowed to withhold from the public information critical to understanding the need and costs of building power plants.
Friday, the Commission said it would accept ‘comments’ from intervenors. But this appears to be a hollow gesture. Comments are due just days before the Commissions’ Public Staff will recommend a decision, while Duke officials avoid being placed under oath to address discrepancies. It appears the Commission doesn’t even plan to consider any input other than that of Duke and the Public Staff.
With all that’s at stake for the climate crisis and North Carolina, it would be tragic for Duke Energy to be allowed to move forward without answering compelling concerns raised by experienced observers and prominent technical experts.
The Duke-protective actions of the legislature and regulators are perfectly emblematic of why NC WARN and allies have an Emergency Complaint pending with Attorney General Roy Cooper to alter Duke’s corporate charter and restrict its influence.