Justice groups say Duke’s 15-year Carolinas plan would add over 50 gas-fired units although dozens sit idle even during peak demand
NC WARN and the Center for Biological Diversity have filed a legal challenge to Duke Energy’s plan to build scores of gas-fired power plants in the Carolinas even though huge amounts of excess generation already sit unused even during the worst winter weather.
The challenge filed yesterday with the North Carolina Utilities Commission points out that Duke Energy remains a national laggard on cheaper, renewable power. It also notes that Duke’s plans clash with global climate goals and that it would be less expensive to add battery storage at existing solar farms instead of building 50-plus fracked-gas units and continuing to burn coal.
The climate justice groups also say Duke presented misleading information to the Commission in two crucial ways in its annual Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). They say Duke provided grossly inflated cost estimates for solar-with-storage while using estimates of the cost of new gas plants that are half of what Duke actually paid for recent construction. The effect was to make gas look cheaper than solar with batteries, although the latter approach is beating new gas on economics and reliability in many states, a trend that is surging as storage prices keep falling.
The second distortion, according to the groups, is that IRP data allege a shortage of available power during winter peaks which, if true, would bolster Duke’s case to keep building gas-fired plants. When challenged, Duke corrected the numbers, which now reflect that Duke Energy Carolinas actually had available up to 40% more power than needed even on the coldest days in 2019, according to an analysis by engineer Bill Powers, a consultant for the groups.
Furthermore, Powers discovered that, just after Duke’s highest usage in years – during a deep freeze in 2015 – corporate officials assured the Commission they had plenty of reserve power.
NC WARN’s Jim Warren said today: “It appears that Duke Energy rigged data to make the Commission and public think we’re all going to freeze in the dark if Duke doesn’t keep building billion-dollar power plants.” He said a primary Commission role is to prevent monopolies from over-building power plants.
“Duke Energy is claiming poverty while sitting on bags of gold,” Warren said of the plan to build plants while dozens sit idle even at times of peak demand.
Engineer Powers found that, during periods of highest usage, it is standard and appropriate practice for Duke to import electricity from neighboring utilities. But this leaves Duke ratepayers being charged for both the imported power and dozens of idle power units.
In addition, Duke’s IRP alleges the need for over 50 additional gas-fired units, even though greenhouse gas regulation and Duke’s own climate goal would require most of them to close years ahead of schedule, leaving ratepayers to pay billions for those stranded assets.
The groups’ submission details the devastating risks that climate change poses to North Carolina and explains that Duke’s IRP fails to provide the substantial greenhouse gas emission reductions urgently needed to address the climate crisis.
Jean Su, the Center’s Energy Justice Director said today: “It’s unconscionable that Duke Energy, one of the world’s largest climate-polluting utilities, refuses to develop a resource plan that meets the moment of the climate emergency. Building out dirty gas plants and locking the Carolinas into decades of climate pollution is backwards, especially in the wake of the Texas energy tragedy. We urge the Commission to send Duke back to the drawing board, to develop a resource plan that meets the moment and provides the rapid transition to a clean and just energy economy that climate science demands and the Biden administration has directed.”
A new presidential Executive Order calls for utilities to stop burning coal and gas by 2035.
The justice groups say that, despite prodigious advertising, Duke now gets only 5% of its electricity in the Carolinas from renewables; the national average was 18% in 2019.
Warren added: “Electric utilities operating alongside Duke Energy are finding that battery storage is a less expensive alternative to new gas turbines. But Duke leaders told the Commission that battery storage is four times the cost of gas. The regulators need to penalize Duke leaders for rigging the numbers – especially with so much at stake.”
Su explained that the NC Commission must join regulators in Virginia and South Carolina, who recently rejected utility IRPs. “The NC Commission bears the legal duty of protecting the public interest. That means protecting customers against relentless rate hikes for unneeded gas-fired plants and combatting the climate emergency by regulating in pursuit of clean and distributed energy that ultimately serves North Carolinians, not Duke profits.”
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