Attorney General, others point to manipulations, bogus info in Duke’s plan that could lead to dozens of new, climate-wrecking natural gas-burning power units
The world’s leading scientists say reducing the expansion of natural gas (methane) infrastructure is absolutely crucial to humanity’s efforts to avert widespread climate and social catastrophe, and that curbing methane gas emissions could help “very, very quickly.”
Yet Duke Energy execs seek a blanket regulatory approval that could allow a whopping 11,700 megawatts of new gas-fired electricity generation – dozens of new units – by 2050. The carbon plan they submitted to the NC Utilities Commission (NCUC) contains numerous misrepresentations that heavily slant the case for expanding gas over the far cheaper transition to solar-plus-storage, energy-saving and other climate-protecting solutions.
Duke Energy’s manipulations are a recurring theme from Attorney General Josh Stein, big tech companies and many other parties in the carbon plan docket. Even the NCUC’s Duke-friendly Public Staff says the Charlotte-based fossil fuel giant used “artificial restrictions” to downplay the suitability of solar-plus-storage (SPS).
This goes well beyond honest differences of opinion. All Duke’s “errors” coincidentally fall in its favor. Among the key Duke Energy misrepresentations:
> Several parties reveal that Duke manipulated its EnCompass modeling software to shift results from favoring battery storage to a large amount of new gas. NCSEA et al. say Duke “chose to restrain generation choices and even override EnCompass’s selections by ‘forcing’ it to make certain resource choices.” AG Josh Stein says Duke “used a number of problematic modeling inputs and made unjustified changes to the modeling results.” Tech Customers confirm Duke “hardcoded several asset selections into its modeling.” The Carolinas Clean Energy Business Association attacks Duke for using double-counting, multiple errors and “engineering judgments” in place of legitimate calculations.
> Duke used a misleading, non-standard definition of SPS, matching solar with too little battery capacity in its calculations to argue that SPS can’t serve as a substitute for more gas turbines. It’s akin to a passenger jet designed for 4-hour flights, but with a fuel tank that only allows one hour in the air. [See analysis by NC WARN’s San Diego engineer Bill Powers, p. 5]
> Duke Energy claims that, above a very modest level, SPS is unreliable and uneconomic compared to new gas-fired units. But other large utilities – including rival Florida Power & Light – are embracing SPS as superior in cost and reliability: “[B]atteries are now more economic than gas-fired peakers [turbines], even at today’s natural gas prices.” FP&L projects SPS power to cost about half as much as power from large new gas units by the late 2020s. [Powers, p. 15]
> Wholesale urban SPS can substitute for many of the gas turbines, remote solar farms and imported power projects Duke proposes, thus eliminating up to $19 billion in transmission upgrades.* Duke’s exclusion of transmission upgrade costs for remote projects gives the false impression that “big and remote” solar/SPS is lower cost than wholesale urban SPS. [Powers pp. 40 ff.]
> While Duke Energy publicly projects up to 3,900 MW of new gas generation by 2035 (up to two-dozen gas combustion turbines), the details in its 883-page draft plan show it’s seeking approval to build up to 11,700 MW by 2050. [Powers p. 25] This is 22 percent more new gas generation than Duke had planned in 2020.
> Duke Energy is hiding most cost estimates from public comparison, but NC WARN assumes it’s still using projections from its recent filings, which inexplicably allege that building dozens of gas-fired units would cost only half the actual price per MW of recent Duke gas construction projects such as Asheville. [Powers p. 14] Many other parties point to Duke exaggerating solar costs and low-balling costs of natural gas expansion.
The world’s leading climate scientists are pressing to halt new natural gas infrastructure. In May, the latest study by Duke University’s Drew Shindell showed that “Slashing emissions of carbon dioxide by itself isn’t enough to prevent catastrophic global warming … But if we simultaneously also reduce emissions of methane and other often overlooked climate pollutants, we could … give the world a fighting chance.” [emphasis added]
And yet, Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good and other “leaders” conspire by means of dishonest modeling to massively expand the use of that very methane – as more and more people suffer.
* See Duke Energy 2020 IRP. The combined upper-end potential transmission spend in NC is: $8.9 billion (p. 16, “No New Gas Generation” column) + $10 billion (pp. 58-59, additional transmission cost to have maximum import capacity in NC) = $18.9 billion.