Campus would be guinea pig for national scheme to build fracked gas power plants with climate-wrecking emissions on campuses, group tells President Brodhead
Today NC WARN urged President Richard Brodhead not to allow Duke University to be used by Duke Energy in an emerging national scheme to expand the burning of fracked gas, and instead to join Stanford and other universities who are developing clean-energy innovations.
In a report sent today based on our technical assessment and meetings with University officials, we’re urging Dr. Brodhead to suspend contract negotiations with Duke Energy, use on-campus talent to comprehensively assess clean energy options, and commit to an open discussion with the campus and community about the University’s energy opportunities.
Among the many problems with the gas-fired plant proposed by Duke Energy, it would increase the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by over 60 percent, increase local air pollution, do little to enhance reliability, continue driving the climate-destructive fracking boom, and fuel controversy for years to come.
We’re calling on Dr. Brodhead to use his stature and good name to inspire the public by taking assertive action to avert one of the greatest and most urgent challenges facing humanity: the accelerating climate crisis. In doing so, he can help offset the electric power and fossil fuel industries’ reckless expansion of methane-spewing fracked gas and their disturbing suppression of open public discussion about natural gas, methane and climate.
This year is on track to far surpass the all-time global average heat record set in 2015 even as a series of widespread floods have struck eastern North Carolina since Labor Day, and as weather extremes continue ravaging communities around the world. Leading scientists say methane leaking and venting from US natural gas wells and equipment is making global warming worse, and that it makes the burning of natural gas for electricity even worse for the climate than burning coal due to methane’s super-potency as a heat trapping gas.
Other key findings in the NC WARN report include:
- Duke University has a large amount of solar photovoltaic potential. Market pricing is lower than the level University officials say they need – and even lower than they’re now paying Duke Energy for power. We recommend that the University conduct a comprehensive assessment of solar potential, with particular focus on rooftops and parking facilities.
- Duke Energy has chosen not to use the best available air pollution controls for the gas-fired CHP plant. Nitrous oxide emissions would be at least ten times greater, per kilowatt-hour, than those from a similar CHP plant at Cornell University.
- Until recently, University leaders did not realize the gas-CHP plant would burn mostly shale gas from the fracking fields, and they emphasized that this isn’t what Duke University wants. This reason alone should be enough to end contract negotiations with Duke Energy.
- Hopes that a gas-fired CHP plant built on campus might someday be converted to burn biogas from swine waste remain highly speculative due to technical, economic and social justice challenges that are many years from being resolved after more than a decade of effort.
- Duke Energy and surrounding utilities own many power plants that sit idle much of the year. The utility cannot justify the University gas-CHP plant or the rate increases its general customers would bear for a plant intended to serve a private university.
News of Duke Energy’s proposal to build a natural gas-fired power plant at Duke University induced a backlash this summer from students, faculty and alumni. If the project were completed, Duke University would be joining those electric utilities that are driving the highly damaging US fracking boom and the increased spewing of methane into the air.
With its electricity and steam needs currently being met by existing resources, the University should not commit to a single large project that would limit its options and squander its chance to help slow climate change.
Dr. Brodhead is in a prime position to implement innovative projects to serve as a model and inspiration for students, other campuses and industry. We are urging him to suspend contract negotiations with Duke Energy, and commit to a truly open process and discussion with the campus – and with the community that would bear the decades of air pollution and economic burdens if Duke Energy’s global warming machine were built in Durham.
This approach can align Duke University with leading universities who are adopting innovations that could become a critical step toward stemming what many scientists refer to as a climate crisis. The intensity of the ongoing, three-year global heatwave has surprised climate scientists. Humanity needs bold action, not business as usual for the fossil fuel industry.
We look forward to helping Dr. Brodhead develop a path that can be a source of pride and inspiration for members of the University, its neighbors and people across the nation.