We’re “on track toward an unlivable world” scientists warn as Duke plans 50 new gas-fired power units in the Carolinas alone
Even as Duke Energy seeks to hobble rooftop solar in North Carolina, science is pouring in showing how disastrous and outdated Duke’s preferred fuel is. With methane emissions breaking all records, climate scientists insist cutting the venting of the highly potent climate pollutant would be the fastest – and likely the only – chance to avert total chaos.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently condemned fossil fuel expansions as “moral and economic madness” and said the latest science shows the planet moving “perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts” due to governmental and corporate recklessness.
But, while Duke Energy is slowly closing down coal-fired plants, the huge electric monopoly is not joining the clean energy transition: It’s planning to expand fossil fuels by building 50 new units that burn natural gas at about a dozen sites in the Carolinas by 2035.
Natural gas is nearly all methane, a greenhouse gas 100 times as potent as carbon dioxide at warming the planet in the all-important first 10 years in the atmosphere. Scientists continue to insist that reducing methane emissions is crucial to slowing the climate crisis.
Methane hits record level in 2021
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported earlier this month that annual methane emissions were the highest ever in 2021, beating the record set in 2020.
NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said: “… global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace. The evidence is consistent, alarming and undeniable… we can no longer afford to delay urgent and effective action … Reducing methane emissions is an important tool we can use right now to lessen the impacts of climate change in the near term, and rapidly reduce the rate of warming.”
Cornell scientist Robert Howarth told the Associated Press: “My research strongly points toward fossil fuels as being the largest cause of the increase since 2008, with increased emissions from shale gas production from fracking in the U.S. being a major part of that.”
Gas industry emissions higher than earlier thought
A new study in Environmental Science & Technology found that 9.4% of gas/methane extracted in the New Mexico Permian Basin was escaping, unburned, into the atmosphere – an alarming 194 metric tons per hour. This is 3-6 times as much as less comprehensive studies had estimated.
“Firmly on track toward an unlivable world” … UN climate report
While emphasizing that it’s not too late to avert climate catastrophe – especially if we address the “low-hanging fruit” of methane emissions – UN scientists say we must dramatically increase and implement current global commitments.
Duke Energy and other utilities are leading users of fracked gas, with Duke planning twice as much new gas generation as any US utility. Not only are Duke executives helping squander our best chance to slow climate change, a 2021 report calculated Duke’s massive amount of new gas would have to be retired early, leaving Carolinas ratepayers to pick up a tab of $4.8 billion in stranded costs.
Duke Energy is out of step with national trends
While Duke projects a Carolinas grid that’s 14% renewable in 2035, the national average was already 20.1% last year.
And wind and solar made up the bulk of US new power additions in 2021, with new gas-fired power plants nearly surpassed by new small-scale solar. That’s the very rooftop solar Duke’s trying to crush in North Carolina so it can keep building gas plants – although it has run into fierce opposition by 17 solar companies and 54 pro-solar nonprofits.
Too many people are already being devastated by climate extremes. Duke Energy “leaders” need to seize every opportunity to maximize clean energy and energy efficiency, instead of blocking those solutions and continuing to drive the climate crisis.