NC WARN to Duke Energy: Justify gas plant in Asheville or withdraw the application

COAL CUTTERS: The Buncombe County Board of Adjustment gave the go-ahead to a conditional use permit that will allow Duke Energy to begin construction on its natural gas facility. Duke says it plans to eliminate its Arden-based coal-fired operation by the end of 2019.

Editor’s note: The nonprofit NC WARN released the following letter today from its executive director, Jim Warren, to Lynn Good, president and CEO of Duke Energy with the subject line, “Openly justify the fracking gas plant in Asheville or withdraw the application.”

NC WARN appeals to your sense of propriety and your duty to the people of North Carolina by calling on you to fully and openly justify Duke Energy’s application to build a large fracking gas-fired power plant in Asheville – or to cancel the application.

There is far too much at stake – the climate crisis, the state economy and the very principles necessary for a democratic society to function – for this process to move forward under the shadow created by Sen. [Tom] Apodaca’s bill limiting regulatory and public review to 45 days.

That fast-track process appears to be unprecedented in the U.S., and we are concerned that Duke intends to have legislators extend it to as many as 15 or more fracking-gas plants you might build by 2030, as indicated in your latest Integrated Resource Plan.

All parties agree that you must close the small coal units that are being used less than half the time. If you honestly think new gas-fired units are necessary to serve the public, you should waive the 45-day limit in favor of an open and careful review. Next, tell the N.C. Utilities Commission to conduct evidentiary hearings, where your officials will testify and be subject to cross-examination, as will technical experts with the Commission’s Public Staff, NC WARN and other interveners.

Next, instruct your attorneys to make available for public scrutiny all information relating to the need, costs and public impacts of the proposed plant; don’t wait for the Commission to rule on our pending motion to compel Duke to unseal documents critical to assessing the propriety of the project.

Based on the available information, we remain convinced the plant is not needed, and that a majority of power for the Asheville area can continue coming from neighboring areas. Just yesterday we learned that Columbia Energy LLC has 523 MW of gas-fired generation capacity available, in Duke’s South Carolina territory, which would be cheaper than power from new Asheville units. Federal law requires Duke to use Columbia’s supply, but you are slow to acknowledge that. Apparently you would begin buying that power only after approval of the Asheville project?

Among the missing information is any data substantiating Duke’s assertion that the area’s peak demand is expected to grow by 17 percent over 10 years. In response to our discovery request, your attorneys declined to cite any study or analysis supporting your annual growth numbers. To be clear, the absence of such substantiation severely undermines your case for building that plant.

Similarly, Duke has failed to supply data supporting the claim that excess generation across the region cannot be used at Asheville. This is fairly straightforward math Involving demand, available supply and whether the two existing transmission corridors can handle the needed load or be enhanced.

We realize Duke might need to withhold certain information regarding detailed cost estimates for equipment, but you cannot keep secret data that is critical to your claim of needing this plant. You are somehow still allowed to operate as a monopoly, which requires that you make your case openly in front of regulators and the public.

North Carolinians are increasingly angry about your control over elected officials and regulators. Duke Energy executives and state government officials are badly tainted by your influence regarding coal ash and other controversies.

We encourage you to take this opportunity to begin a new and open approach with the public. Make your case for pursuing an aggressive future in fracking gas, or withdraw the application.

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