By Elizabeth Ouzts
Critics wanted the state Utilities Commission to gather more evidence before deciding on the long-range resource plan.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission declined last week to hold additional hearings on Duke Energy’s long-range power generation strategy.
The move was a blow to clean energy groups and more than a dozen Democratic state legislators who wanted more public meetings and an expert witness hearing over Duke’s plan, which calls for deriving 8% of electricity from renewable sources while building a raft of new fossil gas plants and keeping many of its coal plants running past 2033.
“NC WARN is deeply disappointed that the commission chose to proceed without allowing open scrutiny of Duke Energy’s plans for this state,” the nonprofit’s director, Jim Warren, said in a written statement.
While the commission didn’t explicitly deny the groups’ requests, the panel’s call for “proposed orders” in the proceeding indicated it was ready to move toward a decision on Duke’s blueprint rather than gather more evidence.
NC WARN and other advocates had argued that Duke’s plans undervalued solar and battery storage and ignored the economic downsides of operating coal plants through the end of their book lives. They’d hoped a cross-examination under oath would help expose flaws in the company’s plans.
But the commission’s decision to forego such a trial-type hearing and limit expert testimony to written documents could work in advocates’ favor. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has named three new commissioners thought to be more favorable to renewables than their predecessors; they await confirmation by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
If lawmakers confirm the nominees — Kimberly Duffley, Jeff Hughes, and Durham Democrat Sen. Floyd McKissick — in the next two months, they could conceivably participate in the ruling on Duke’s plan by reviewing a written record. They couldn’t weigh in, however, if they missed an in-person expert hearing.
Last week’s order also doesn’t preclude a final decision requiring Duke to make significant changes to its 15-year integrated resource plan, Warren acknowledged.
“The commission must still rule on the IRP itself,” Warren said, “so we can hope they won’t just go along with the corporation the way past commissions have done.”