Utility Commission’s unprecedented attempt to padlock the courthouse doors would further shield Duke Energy – and the Commission – from scrutiny in billion-dollar boondoggle
Today NC WARN and The Climate Times called for the NC Court of Appeals to immediately suspend regulators’ efforts to block our appeal of a Duke Energy power plant in Asheville. Last week, the NC Utilities Commissioners ordered us to post a $10 million bond before we can ask the Court of Appeals to overturn the Commission’s rubber-stamp approval of the plant.
That unprecedented bond action is yet another example of Commissioners shielding Duke – and themselves, in this case – from scrutiny of Duke executives’ business model, which is disastrous for the climate crisis and is based on building unneeded power plants and raising rates despite a glut of regional supply of electricity for years to come.
Duke proposes to build up to 15 large gas-fired plants in the Carolinas alone, even as natural gas has become the largest greenhouse problem in the US due to methane leakage throughout the industry.
We are optimistic the Court will agree that Duke and the Utilities Commission cannot be allowed to padlock the courthouse door. The Court of Appeals has, in the past, scolded a lower court for imposing excessive bonds without sufficient evidence of potential harm.
The 1963 law allowing Duke Energy to seek a bond from critics appealing a power plant approval is purportedly designed to offset costs stemming – specifically – from delays in getting construction of an approved plant started. But Duke refused to even state that our appeal would delay construction, even as it directed the Commission to impose a $50 million bond.
Even more amazing is that the Commissioners went along with the prohibitive bond approach, calling for a $10 million bond even while providing no rationale for the bond amount.
In fact, neither Duke nor the Commission cited a shred of evidence to support those giant numbers – either of which would prevent any critic from taking the case to court. The Commission merely pulled a number out of its regulatory hat – without citing any facts to support the choice of $10 million, versus $5 million or $20 million or 50 cents.
And that’s even after admitting it had never made a ruling setting a bond in any power plant case.
State law is deeply flawed when the Commissioners – whose very pro-Duke ruling is being appealed – are allowed to set a bond in the case at a level that blocks an appeal.
NC WARN and The Climate Times are appealing the Asheville fracking-gas plant because the Commission rubber-stamped the project without considering expert witnesses who argue that the plant is not needed and would be disastrous for the climate crisis and risky for electricity customers.
The Commission approved the project in just 45 days, a fast-track that makes errors more likely. In the words of attorney Matt Quinn, this is “the worst of all possible cases in which to set a bond so high that appeal becomes impossible.”
Duke Energy’s uncertainty that its case for the plant will hold up in court is a risk that should fall on the corporation and its shareholders – not ratepayers and not critics seeking a thorough, transparent review of the $1.1 billion project.
Duke Energy’s control over various levels of our state government and civic institutions has become a crisis of democracy in North Carolina – and is directly linked to the surging climate crisis that is damaging millions and threatens us all with extinction.