Despite their pervasive deception, Duke Energy leaders plan more fracked gas, minimal renewables; regulators must conduct hearings on Duke’s 15-year plan and alternative paths
Even as many other utilities, state and local governments move assertively to reduce electricity rates and climate impacts by replacing coal and “natural” gas with cheaper renewables-plus-battery storage projects, Duke Energy old-schoolers are hanging on to a 20th Century business plan that’s risky for stockholders, despite the monopoly capture of Carolinas customers and public officials.
Dramatic advances and rapidly declining prices in battery storage technologies are game changers in the global electricity business this year. There are no technical or economic reasons that North Carolina cannot retire all coal- and gas-fired power generation even more rapidly than was projected in 2017’s North Carolina Clean Path 2025, an implementable strategy laid out by NC WARN that Duke Energy prevented state regulators from even considering.
Today NC WARN attorneys filed a motion calling for the NC Utilities Commission to hold an open, evidentiary process to allow careful scrutiny of Duke’s 15-year plan and alternatives to it. Most states require evidentiary hearings on long-term planning, which require utilities to address – under oath – questions and testimony of attorneys and expert witnesses representing interested parties. The NC Commission stopped requiring hearings several years ago, protecting and pleasing Duke leaders.
Now, with the stakes higher than ever due to the gravity of the climate crisis – and with rapid, hopeful advances in cheaper, clean energy technologies, it is imperative that the Commission hold Duke Energy accountable. Among the low-lights of Duke’s 15-year Integrated Resource Plans:
- Duke plans to grow its renewables to only 8 percent (including dirty biomass) of all generation by 2033, as other states and utilities plan to be 100 percent green in or near that time frame.
- Duke still shuns wind power although NC has large near- and off-shore resources.
- As some states are cancelling gas-fired power plants in favor of cheaper, more reliable battery storage, Duke wants to build the equivalent of two dozen large, gas plants in the Carolinas, nearly 10,000 MW, and the controversial Atlantic Coast (fracked gas) Pipeline.
- By contrast, Duke plans to add only 300 MW of battery storage, ignoring the accelerating market shift from gas to storage.
- Duke seeks those new plants, and perpetual rate hikes, even though many of its existing units sit idle for most of the year – a situation the Utilities Commission is supposed to prevent.
- The corporation continues to largely ignore energy-saving and energy-balancing programs that, on their own, can eliminate the need to keep building power plants.
- With the unburned methane emissions from its expanded use of fracked gas, Duke is overmatching any climate benefits from its reduced burning of coal.
Solar power combined with battery storage is now beating new natural gas-fired power plants on cost-effectiveness and reliability. But Duke Energy is using the obsolete claim that it must build gas turbines to back up solar power. Duke has actually proven the reliability of the game-changing rechargeable zinc-air battery storage – which is set to slash energy storage prices even more – but plans only pilot storage projects while other utilities and governments move storage into the mainstream.
Duke relies on its monopoly protection against competition to dig in against genuine innovation.
NC WARN and allies have pressed, over many years, for Duke Energy CEOs Jim Rogers and Lynn Good to work with North Carolinians to help avert runaway climate catastrophe. The hour is very late – with the climate tipping point projected for 2020 unless dramatic corrections start now – and the public servants at the Utilities Commission must finally hold this corporate giant accountable to the People of North Carolina.