By John Downey
State regulators say Duke Energy Progress can go ahead with a $750 million plan to build a 560-megawatt, two-unit natural gas plant in Asheville.
But it will have to come back later for permission to build a third unit at the plant, if that unit is necessary. That would be a 186-megawatt, peak-power plant that Duke may or may not need, depending on the success of regional efforts at energy efficiency and cutting peak demand.
That plant would cost about $150 million to build at current costs, Duke estimates. The commission also approved Duke’s plans to spend about $200 million on transmission and other infrastructure upgrades as part of the plan to build the natural gas plant.
“We appreciate the North Carolina Utilities Commission’s thorough consideration and decision on our Western Carolinas Modernization Project,” says David Fountain, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president. “We are fully committed to creating a smarter and cleaner energy future for the region.”
The ruling from the N.C. Utilities Commission generally followed the recommendations of the Public Staff, charged with protecting the interests of ordinary customers. But the commission added a surprise requirement.
The commission wants Duke Progress to investigate what would be required to retrofit the four coal-burning units at its Roxboro Steam Plant along the lines that state environmental regulators propose. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality has proposed specific upgrades to the Roxboro plant near Semora to improve its efficiency and thus reduce carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour of energy generated.
The commission wants Duke Progress to include the results of that investigation in its integrated resource plan this fall.
That had not been part of the staff recommendation nor of any discussion about the plant. It was not raised at a meeting the commission held last week to discuss the plant.
Duke Energy spokesman Tim Petit says that Duke will be happy to comply with the requirement.
The reasoning for it may become clearer when the commission issues its full order on the application to build the plant. What the commission issued Monday was a notice of its decision.
The commission says it will file a full order, including its findings and its reasoning, “as soon as is practicable. But it gives no other indication of when that will be.