By David Boraks
North Carolina regulators have given Duke Energy the go ahead to build two new gas-fired electricity generating units in Asheville. The $1 billion project will replace an existing coal-fired plant on the site, which Duke plans to retire.
The approval came over the objection of environmentalists who argued that Duke overstated the need for a new plant in the North Carolina mountains.
Duke has forecast that regional electricity demand will rise 17 percent in the area over the next decade.
The commission did not approve Duke’s application for a third, smaller unit on the site.
The two approved units would produce 280 megawatts of electricity, fueled by natural gas. The existing plant generates 379 megawatts. Duke will pass along the costs of the new plant – plus a profit margin – to customers in their monthly bills.
Monday’s decision came right at the deadline for a decision set by the General Assembly last year.
N.C. WARN was among those opposing Duke’s plan for new generating units in Asheville. In a statement Monday afternoon, the group said: “Duke Energy can and should close the Asheville coal units now. Our position has been strengthened during this case: Duke’s huge natural gas power plant is not needed, would be high-risk economically, and would accelerate the global climate crisis at the worst possible time.”
NC WARN said it plans to appeal the decision.
Other groups also objected, including the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club.
“It’s time to transition off of dirty, outdated fossil fuels in Western North Carolina,” Emma Greenbaum, North Carolina organizing representative for Sierra Club, said in a press release. “Though we are pleased that the NCUC has decided to deny Duke Energy’s request for a third natural gas unit, we are disheartened that the approved plan allows for this oversized natural gas project to go forward.
“It is unfortunate that we’re being forced to continue on a climate-polluting path when energy efficiency and renewables continue to be the best, least cost solution for consumers and the environment. We will continue to advocate for the expansion of clean energy in our region and across the state as a transition to clean energy is the only responsible long-term solution to our energy needs,” she said.