By John Downey
Advocacy group NC WARN wants state regulators to hold hearings on Duke Energy’s $56 million plan to upgrade its Cliffside coal units to burn natural gas.
And after that hearing, it wants the N.C. Utilities Commission to reject the plan.
NC WARN contends that upgrading Duke Energy’s two Cliffside coal units at the Rogers Energy Complex would be needlessly expensive and environmentally unsound.
Charlotte-based Duke (NYSE: DUK) has not asked the commission for approval for the upgrade. The company informed the commission of the plan and the estimated cost Oct. 11. But Duke contends it does not need permission for the project.
NC WARN, a frequent opponent of Duke and of increased use of natural gas to produce electricity, disagrees.
“The addition of the natural gas option to the coal units constitutes a significant amendment to the original (permit) granted by the commission for the Cliffside project and, therefore, it requires Commission review,” it says in a petition to the commission filed Tuesday.
The Durham-based group says at the hearing, it wants to present evidence the additional cost for upgrading the Cliffside units and building a gas pipeline to the Rogers Energy Center, where they sit, would be burdensome to rate payers. The group claims it can show that there is no cost or reliability benefit to co-firing the units and that “the increased burning of natural gas … will have a negative impact on the environment.”
It also contends there is a significant risk that natural gas, now an inexpensive and plentiful fuel, will become significantly more expensive in the near future.
It is not clear the commission will require Duke to file a formal response. But Duke spokeswoman Kim Crawford dismissed group’s contentions.
“NC WARN’s motion is just their latest attempt to oppose any cost-effective and environmentally beneficial project proposed by Duke Energy,” she says. “Providing dual fuel optionality demonstrates Duke Energy’s commitment to improving our operations by finding innovative ways to power the communities we serve.”