Group presses Cooper to counter pro-Duke regulators, prevent yet another billion-dollar blunder by the nation’s largest climate-polluting utility
Watchdog nonprofit NC WARN today thanked NC Gov. Roy Cooper in an open letter for expanding his recent criticism of Duke Energy’s plans to gamble the state’s climate and economic future on natural gas and experimental nuclear reactors.
Today’s letter explains that Duke Energy leaders are conning Cooper and the public by planning to keep building fossil fuel infrastructure through the 2030s because someday they might replace fracked gas with “green hydrogen” as fuel. Green hydrogen is a long unfulfilled promise recently dredged up by US electric monopolies as an excuse to keep building gas-fired power plants and pipelines.
Duke leaders have made a host of billion-dollar blunders in recent years. NC WARN urged Cooper to take personal action to prevent the Charlotte-based polluter and its pro-Duke NC Utilities Commission from squandering precious years and billions more on false solutions while stifling local solar-plus-storage and other renewable competition that bipartisan voters want.*
Both the “hydrogen-capable” gas and “small modular reactors” in Duke Energy’s pro-carbon plan – under the best conditions and under Duke’s own timeframe – fail to meet scientists’ demands for major carbon cuts by 2030, thus they simply cannot help avert climate-social-political chaos, as we told the Governor.
Just yesterday, the lead developer of the “small modular reactor” saw its first project and its corporate future collapse, dealing a blow to ambitions for a wave of new reactors.
Duke CEO Lynn Good will retire long before either technology could possibly bear fruit or, far more likely, fail altogether. Utility execs’ goal is to pour billions into the rate system, keeping investors hooked to the cash cow monopoly until they can leave their messes to someone else.
Without Cooper’s direct involvement, the NC Utilities Commission (NCUC) will allow Duke Energy to bleed ratepayers year after year by chasing technologies that have, for decades, remained “just over the horizon” from becoming viable. That’s exactly what Duke did for 13 years with the unproven Westinghouse reactor, wasting billions on the failed project.
“We can’t use natural gas as the solution to these challenges,” Cooper said at a conference last week. This was music to our ears; NC WARN, leading scientists, allies and thousands of state residents have pressed Cooper for years to stop Duke’s massive expansion of gas-fired power and attacks on solar net metering.
HYDROGEN: A RUSE TO EXPAND FOSSIL FUELS
Because of very high costs and low efficiencies, numerous energy experts say green hydrogen, which would use massive amounts of renewable power to separate hydrogen from water, is a long shot despite billions in taxpayer subsidies over the years.
In addition, as we reported to the Governor today, if Duke ever did succeed in replacing fracked gas-fired generation with green hydrogen, serious problems would include:
- INCREASED AIR POLLUTION. Greatly increased emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides compared to burning natural gas. This would harm communities near power plants and violate Cooper’s recent Environmental Justice order.
- WASTED CLEAN POWER. Converting solar or wind power to green hydrogen through electrolysis, then back to electricity in a gas turbine power plant would waste between 50 and 80 percent of the renewable power used to produce the green hydrogen.
- ENORMOUS LAND USE. It would require the equivalent of about 270 square miles of solar panels. By comparison, 15 counties in North Carolina each have less land area.
- VAST AMOUNTS OF FRESH WATER would be used by electrolyzer plants.
- BETTER OPTIONS ALREADY ON HAND. Even gas turbine manufacturers such as Siemens recognize that burning hydrogen in the future – or natural gas today – to supply peaking power is already being undercut economically by battery storage technology.
As we told the Governor today, Duke Energy’s own pro-carbon plan reflects layers of doubt about green hydrogen ever becoming “a viable option.” And again, even if it succeeded, Duke would keep burning fossil fuels for decades, sorely failing the climate science.
For many years, the NCUC has consistently failed to independently regulate Duke Energy. Now, our state’s Governor must become personally involved, demand open decision-making and help the public to broadly understand that North Carolina is at a perilous juncture.
We simply cannot allow Duke Energy leaders to drag this state through another corporate failure at this critical time.