Why Does Duke Energy Want to Build Another Gas Plant in Asheville, North Carolina?


Duke Energy in North Carolina is busy green-washing its tarnished image, which is sticky and black from coal ash and the corrupting influence of money on our democracy. They recently got permission from the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) to build 560 MW of new natural gas plants in Asheville. There is ample evidence that these plants aren’t needed, and are merely propping up Duke Energy’s get-rich business model, and choking off clean energy and energy efficiency.

While Duke Energy is telling the good citizens of Asheville that its so-called “modernization” project is using the latest and greatest technology, a cursory look tells a much different story. First of all, Duke Energy’s application was mostly blank spaces, with little real data. Their goals for North Carolina are too little, too late: 4% clean energy by 2030, plus 6% energy efficiency.  This is a pathetically low goal, and dozens of states with less solar and wind resources have far higher targets. After all, North Carolina has the greatest off-shore wind resource on the East Coast.

If Duke Energy really wanted to look ahead, it could look at “performance-based incentives,” based on goals such as reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.  But they don’t want to look at the disastrous effects of pollution on our communities and our future, as they continue to exclude the staggering cost of pollution from the “cost of electricity,” sometimes referred as “externalities.”

Duke Energy pretends that replacing coal with natural gas (methane, CH4) is better because burning natural gas for electricity generates less CO2 than burning coal.  What they conveniently ignore is that methane is greater than 100 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2 over its first 10 years, and that “fracked” gas, which is currently 56% of U.S. natural gas production, pollutes our air and water, creates earthquakes, and is destroying communities that have been “fracked.”

If Duke Energy had to pay the real cost of damages from the fossil fuels they burn, they would go bankrupt immediately. Instead, Duke Energy’s North Carolina CEO Lynn Good, just got a raise to nearly $11 million for one year. Nice!

Duke Energy is also busy killing competition for solar, and helped to kill a bill at the North Carolina General Assembly called “third party” solar, which would have allowed a competitive market for electricity sales in North Carolina.  Although competition brings down prices and helps consumers, it might eat into Duke Energy’s billions in profits, so they work over-time to keep competitive businesses selling clean energy alternatives out of North Carolina.

The Climate Times and NC WARN submitted some written scientific expert affidavits in the Asheville power plant docket. Unfortunately, there was no “hearing,” and so we were unable to allow our witnesses to verbally present their expert testimony.  Unfortunately, the NCUC was not required to take the affidavits into account in their consideration of the Duke Energy permit request.

Dr. Robert Howarth, who is nationally known for his work on the global warming effects of natural gas/methane, spoke about how burning natural gas for electricity is actually worse than coal. David Hughes, a geoscientist with the Canadian Geological Survey for over 30 years, presented detailed data that U.S. shale gas production would likely peak in 2017, making Duke Energy’s billions spent on gas plants and pipelines into ‘stranded assets.’ The analysis of Bill Powers, a power plant engineer, found that no more electrical power was required for the Asheville area after retiring the old coal-fired plant.

The tools and the resources that we need to create a clean energy future for North Carolina are present, and being employed by many forward-thinking states around the U.S.: unlimited, community-owned solar; third-party solar; far larger amounts of energy efficiency and demand response; wind and geothermal; microgrids; and reconductoring power lines to avoid having to build more power plants.  In fact, a large natural gas combined cycle plant owned by LS Power is 200 miles south of Asheville in South Carolina, and is ready and willing to sell the proposed power to Duke Energy for half of the cost of building the Asheville plant.

Once again, the Duke Energy-influenced NCUC ignores what the people want, and allows Duke Energy to give us what we don’t want or need: more giant, polluting fossil fuel plants.