Utilities Commission shouldn’t “cut itself off at the knees” by letting Duke avoid full-blown review process, hide information
Duke Energy responded to our insistence for careful examination of the need for a large gas-fired power plant near Asheville by pressing the NC Utilities Commission to fast-track its approval of the controversial project. The project would add nearly 800 megawatts of gas-fired generation capacity to service the western parts of both Carolinas. Duke has committed to closing two coal-fired units at the site, which provided power totaling 174 MW in 2014.
NC WARN and The Climate Times has responded by reminding the Commission that it is required to carefully examine the project by conducting evidentiary hearings that allow expert testimony and cross-examination of Duke officials.
The Commission has broad authority, and in this matter the regulators must assert themselves by declaring Duke’s application not to be complete until after the evidentiary hearing. It can do this without overriding the expedited process spelled out in a new law pushed through by Sen. Tom Apodaca.
Duke’s reply to our motion for a careful process incorrectly implies that Apodaca’s unprecedented law requires the Commission to approve the nearly 800 MW project within 45 days of the application, which Duke could file as early as this Friday.
Instead, if the Commission is not able to gather ample information to find the project is in the best interest of customers within 45 days, then it is the Commission’s duty to deny the application.
The last contested case for new generation – for two coal-fired units at Cliffside, NC – took over nine months, and the Commission made sweeping changes to the proposed project after hearing evidence and testimony from the parties and the public, including denying approval of one of the two units.
As NC WARN attorney John Runkle wrote, “The Commission should be examining ways to fulfill its oversight responsibilities over this multi-billion dollar facility, rather than cut itself off at the knees with a narrow interpretation of the session law that grossly compromises the crucial [approval] process.”
NC WARN and The Climate Times have submitted data requests to Duke Energy and are working with several national experts to investigate the costs and impacts of natural gas-fueled power plants.
Duke will be hard-pressed to justify the need for all this generation. In two letters to CEO Lynn Good last fall, the two groups agreed that the coal-burning units must be closed. But we warned that the latest science shows great 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 continue urging Attorney General Roy Cooper to use his policing authority to require Duke to phase out coal-fired plants, stop expanding gas, stop blocking competition, and stop limiting the growth of renewables and efficiency measures that can truly decarbonize the Carolinas.