By Taft Wireback
Duke Energy Carolinas has agreed to scale back some of its grid modernization efforts in a proposed pilot program that would include $25 million for new electric-vehicle charging stations and more support in general for renewable energy.
The utility that serves the Triad, Charlotte, Durham and much of North Carolina’s western area struck the $2.5 billion proposed deal with several environmental groups and the Commercial Group, a coalition of major retailers, including Walmart and Food Lion.
The industry group took a neutral position on the overall settlement, but it expressed support for the parts involving charging stations, increased emphasis on battery storage and improvements to the utility’s customer-information network.
Duke and the advocacy groups submitted the proposed compromise to the N.C. Utilities Commission, the Raleigh-based oversight board that is considering a rate increase proposed by Duke Energy Carolinas to cover grid modernization, coal ash cleanup and other operating costs.
To take effect, the settlement would need the utility commission’s approval as part of its rate-increase deliberations.
Jeff Brooks, a spokesman for Duke Energy Carolinas, described the proposed settlement as a “shared solution that can advance these important grid improvements to benefit customers, while also keeping energy affordable.”
“The grid infrastructure investments proposed in this settlement will improve reliability, protect against cyber and physical threats, and help expand clean energy technologies like private solar, battery storage and electric vehicles,” Brooks said Friday in an email message.
The nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund agreed that the settlement would “strategically focus the utility’s efforts on modernizing North Carolina’s electricity system in a three-year pilot program.”
Brooks said that the proposed settlement actually would not affect the utility’s long-range goals or the overall cost estimate for its Power/Forward Carolinas modernization that is still planned to unfold during the next decade. Rather, it would establish “a 3-year timetable and cost recovery plan for accomplishing certain approved grid improvement projects, but does not alter Duke’s larger, decade-long commitment to grid improvement,” he said.
Other groups included in the settlement were the Sierra Club and the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, a nonprofit advocacy group for solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.
The proposal would resolve objections to the utility’s original “Power/Forward” plan that was part of its rate-increase proposal and that aims to update Duke’s distribution system in such ways as burying vulnerable power lines to protect them from severe weather and other damage.