As Appeals Court considers overturning unprecedented $10 million bond, partners move forward to appeal unique case that’s pivotal for climate crisis and electricity customers
NC WARN and The Climate Times have filed Notice of Appeal in their efforts to expose a Duke Energy power plant proposed for Asheville as unneeded, and disastrous both for customers and for the increasingly urgent fight to slow global warming. The clean energy advocates say legislation ordering a fast-track approval process violates the NC Constitution as a special gift to Duke Energy, and that the NC Utilities Commission shielded the Charlotte-based utility from answering expert witnesses and critics of the $1.1 billion project.
The Friday filing was made even as the NC Court of Appeals is still considering the groups’ earlier request to overturn a $10 million bond ordered by the Commission, thus allowing an appeal to move forward. The groups say the unprecedented bond order is the regulators’ attempt to block access to the courts and to prevent scrutiny of Duke Energy – and the Commission’s own order – in the case.
Attorneys for the two groups wrote that, in approving the huge gas-fired power plant, the Utilities Commission ignored – and allowed Duke to ignore – affidavits from technical experts arguing that the plant is not needed, that the future supply and price of gas are highly risky, and that the plant would amplify greenhouse emissions at the worst possible time.
The Commission bypassed the normal quasi-judicial process in the case, and approved the plant in 45 days without testimony or cross examination of Duke officials or critics’ witnesses.
Dr. Harvard Ayers of The Climate Times, said today, “It is well-documented that methane is both leaking and being vented in large amounts across the US gas infrastructure, from wellhead to where it’s burned. And that methane is 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas over the critical ten-year period after emission. Duke Energy’s expanding use of shale gas is already having a devastating impact on efforts to curb climate change.”
The US news media has just begun to cover the methane issue even though 8 states have been pressing federal regulators to rein in the emissions – and despite repeated warnings by scientists from Cornell and elsewhere that methane emissions from the gas industry have become the leading US greenhouse gas problem due to the growth of fracking.
Duke Energy is planning to build up to 15 large gas-fired power plants in the Carolinas alone, is attempting to build a large pipeline into North Carolina from the shale gas fields to the North, and to merge with Piedmont Natural Gas – a collective investment that could exceed $25 billion.
NC WARN and The Climate Times have expressed concern that Duke will seek similar, fast-track approvals for future gas-plant construction projects.
They argue that two small, little-used coal units at the site should be closed, as Duke plans to do. But they insist that instead of building a huge gas-fired plant and raising rates, existing generation in the region should be put to use, along with more solar power augmented by a massive energy storage facility Duke owns in South Carolina.
Regarding the $10 million bond ordered by the Commission, the Court of Appeals scolded a lower court in the past for imposing excessive bonds without sufficient evidence of potential harm. In the present case, a bond can be required of an appealing party only if damage will be caused by a construction delay. The two groups aren’t asking the court to delay construction, and they say neither Duke nor the Commission cited any evidence that construction would be delayed, nor any evidence supporting the amount of the bond.
NC WARN Director Jim Warren said today, “We’re counting on the Courts to stand up for the people of North Carolina and to rebalance Duke Energy’s enormous corporate control over various levels of our state government and civic institutions. That control has become a crisis of democracy – and is directly linked to the surging climate crisis that is harming millions and threatens us all with extinction.”