Governor, Attorney General must shine light on critical choice between climate-wrecking monopoly vs clean energy competition
NC WARN says Duke Energy has been hiding aggressive plans to waste billions on new and expanded, high-voltage transmission corridors that would target vulnerable communities while limiting large and local solar power projects for years. If successful, Duke’s scheme will further thwart state carbon reduction efforts by locking in a huge increase in the use of climate-wrecking fracked natural gas.
The Durham-based watchdog group has called on Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein to investigate Duke Energy’s plans – and actions quietly underway – for more than 900 miles of new and expanded or upgraded transmission corridors, mostly crisscrossing southeastern NC, and sweeping discrepancies in what Duke told regulators and investors about the price tag.
NC WARN says the NC Utilities Commission (NCUC) has enabled Duke to keep the scheme under wraps and to avoid even considering a proven alternative, based on local solar-plus-storage, that would be a far cheaper, faster and more equitable way to decarbonize the state.
We’re gearing up to vigorously challenge Duke leaders’ scheme in the legal arena, through a statewide ad campaign and by building alliances with targeted communities and climate justice allies. A key focus will be pressing Cooper and Stein to realize that Duke’s multi-billion dollar plans totally collide with state climate goals and the physical and economic wellbeing of North Carolinians.
Fine print and a blurred map* buried in the 16th appendix to Duke Energy’s 2022 Carbon Plan admits the utility will face “right-of-way” challenges to build or expand hundreds of miles of transmission corridors up to 200 feet wide. Such land seizures became a central factor in the six-year fight over the Atlantic Coast (gas) Pipeline that Duke Energy and Dominion Energy tried to build. Rural farmers, communities and their allies blocked the unnecessary, $8 billion pipeline in 2020 despite Cooper’s support for the project.
The new high-voltage transmission scheme targets many of those same people, largely communities of color and low wealth in the Southeast, including Indigenous, who have for many years borne a disproportionate impact of climate disasters and pollution from Duke Energy and others.
NC WARN recently sent Cooper and Stein our new report, Moving North Carolina Forward: The Case for Local Solar-Plus-Storage. Using data from the National Renewable Energy Lab, engineer Bill Powers shows that North Carolina has over twice the space needed to meet state climate goals by putting solar power on roofs, parking areas and vacant lots. That buildout could be done quickly, inexpensively and equitably while benefiting solar power companies.
Since 2017, Duke Energy and its compliant NCUC have prevented debate over this approach. We’re calling on Cooper and Stein to investigate Duke’s true intentions and its activities to date, including:
- How much does Duke Energy actually estimate it will spend, and has already spent, on new and expanded infrastructure?
- Where exactly does Duke Energy plan to build or expand high-voltage power lines, towers and substations, and what are the impacts to local communities and electric rates?
- Has Duke Energy already begun the process of eminent domain, and if so, where?
Despite Duke Energy’s greenwashing, its NCUC-approved Carbon Plan would limit large-scale solar for many years and make the power costlier by applying much of the transmission costs to the price of electricity from new solar farms.
Indications are, however, that Duke really wants the new transmission not for solar, but to keep expanding its gas-fired power system (we suspect they will soon buy into the infamous Mountain Valley Pipeline project). Duke told the NCUC it hopes to switch from burning natural gas to hydrogen over the next 30 years – a climate-losing time frame even if high-risk hydrogen ever became a practical fuel.
A NEW APPROACH TO DECISION-MAKING
Recently, conservatives and business groups have revisited the call to open the state to clean energy competition. Duke Energy persists with its 10-year war against local solar because it’s the monopoly’s only competition and it undercuts the case to keep risking billions on gas-fired power generation, transmission corridors, hydrogen and “small modular” nuclear reactors.
NC WARN has urged Cooper and Stein to initiate a new type of process which will allow the public, particularly those communities directly impacted by Duke Energy’s plan, to have timely and meaningful input into decisions over North Carolina’s energy path moving forward.
From our letter: “… such monumental decisions regarding North Carolina’s energy and climate future should be dealt with in an open and transparent manner … Duke Energy, as a state-sanctioned monopoly, should be required to fully cooperate in this time of unprecedented energy and climate challenges.”
… “Such an approach to decision-making would be a significant departure from business as usual, but … with the accelerating damage to the physical and economic wellbeing of so many North Carolinians at stake, now is the time for a new type of leadership.”
Some 45 scientists have pressed Gov. Cooper to stanch Duke Energy’s huge expansion of power generation from methane gas, arguing that curbing methane emissions is the fastest way to help with the climate crisis.
Gov. Cooper and AG Stein simply must prevent Duke Energy from locking in a high-dollar transmission-and-gas path while suppressing the local solar that’s the fastest, cheapest and most equitable way this state can move off fossil-fueled electricity.
*See Duke’s blurred map of transmission corridors made legible by NC WARN.