Environmental Groups File to Intervene on Duke Energy’s Proposed New Gas Plant

Contact:
Kelly Martin, Sierra Club, (828-423-7845)
Julie Mayfield, MountainTrue (828-271-4544)
DJ Gerken, SELC (828-337-2238)

Asheville, N.C. — MountainTrue and the Sierra Club, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), today filed a petition to intervene in proceeding before the North Carolina Utilities Commission regarding Duke Energy’s proposed new gas-fired power plant that the company has branded its “Western Carolinas Modernization Project.”

Download the petition (pdf)

Duke Energy Progress, whose service territory includes Asheville and other parts of Western North Carolina, submitted to the Utilities Commission on December 16 a notification of intent to file an application for a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” for the new gas units that, if approved, would replace a coal-fired plant at Lake Julian, south of Asheville that is slated for retirement in 2020.

In its letter to the Commission, Duke Energy Progress stated its intent to seek approval of two new natural gas-fired 280 MW units, as well as a third 192 MW unit designed to meet additional demand during peak times. Duke has stated that the ‘peaking” unit may not need to be built if the company can meet demand through energy efficiency programs and greater use of renewable technologies. Duke is currently in discussions with the City of Asheville and Buncombe County, MountainTrue and the Sierra Club to develop those alternatives.

MountainTrue and the Sierra Club, represented by SELC, are requesting to intervene in the proceeding to ensure that the proposed gas plant is truly needed to provide power to Duke’s customers in Western NC, as required under state law, and that the company maximizes its use of cleaner, cost-effective alternatives such as energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Kelly Martin, senior campaign representative for the Beyond Coal campaign in North Carolina, said:

“Duke’s stated intent, albeit qualified, to build a 192 MW peaking gas unit looks like a bet against the success of the recently established Community Clean Energy Policy Framework—a community partnership to achieve demand reductions through energy efficiency measures. That framework, as Duke has publicly stated, ‘involves substantive conversations with the city and other stakeholders about ways to increase renewable energy, energy efficiency and evolving technologies here locally.’

“We therefore encourage Duke to postpone seeking approval for a gas peaker unit in Asheville, and urge the company to include a specific financial commitment to measurable energy efficiency goals as part of the Modernization Project Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity application.

“Taking these two steps will go a long way toward retaining and building confidence in the community partnership on reducing energy use.”

Julie Mayfield, co-director of MountainTrue, said:

“The inclusion of the 192 MW peaking plant in this filing is unfortunate. Duke has told the public that they are looking for cleaner alternatives, then they turn around and ask the public utilities commission for permission to build the additional unit seven years before they say it might be necessary.

“We believe in the commitment of the local Duke officials to this process, but it seems that one hand may not know what the other is doing. We want Duke to be all in on seeking alternatives to the third unit instead of building in a back door, and we are asking them to send a clear message that they are fully committed to finding cleaner, sustainable alternatives by removing the peaking unit from their filing to the utilities commission.”

D.J. Gerken, Managing Attorney, Asheville Office of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said:

“In 2015 the General Assembly gave Duke a fast track for review of this proposal – but not a free pass to overbuild its new fossil fuel plant and stick its customers with the bill.  Duke needs to make a real commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency in the mountains and put up data to prove that it needs this expansion.

“I am especially skeptical of Duke’s request for up-front approval to build a 190 MW peaking unit it would not need until 2023, if ever, when the Company said just two months ago it was working to avoid the third unit with new investments in energy efficiency.”

The application for approval could be filed as soon as January 15, 2016. A public hearing is set for 7:00 p.m. on January 26 at the Buncombe County Courthouse, and a decision by the Utilities Commission must be made within 45 days from the of the filing, or as soon as February 29, 2016.

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Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.