Duke Energy to file next month for permit to build Asheville natural gas plant

Charlotte Business Journal, October 2, 2015

Duke Energy’s proposed $750 million Asheville natural gas plant could be on track for approval by state regulators before the end of the year. Regulators expect Duke to file for permission to build the plant next month.

In June, the N.C. General Assembly passed a law to expedite construction of the 650-megawatt plant. That law requires the N.C. Utilities Commission to act on the permit within 45 days of the filing for the permit.

If Duke files in the first week of November, there would be time for the commission to act before its Christmas break in late December.

Duke spokesman Tom Williams says Duke does not have a firm date yet for its filing. “We are still working through a lot of things,” he says.

Popular plant, unpopular time

At the latest, the commission appears likely to act on the request sometime in January.

Duke Energy Progress, which serves Asheville, announced plans for the plant in May. Duke will close down the 376 megawatt, coal burning Asheville Steam Electric Plant and replace it with the cleaner-burning gas plant.

The proposed switch to natural gas has generally been popular. But residents in much of North Carolina’s southwest mountains and South Carolina’s northwest foothills have objected to plans for a 45-mile transmission line from the plant to a new switching station to be built near Campobello, S.C.

Duke intends to announce the proposed route for that line within a week or so. The route for the transmission line will be approved separately from the plant by regulators in both Carolinas. Duke expects to file for those permits early next year.

Read more

Duke defends need for transmission lines

Hendersonville Times-News, September 28, 2015

Duke Energy’s plans to run a new 230-kilovolt transmission line on 140-foot towers through the Western North Carolina mountains have many people worried about the project’s impact and questioning whether the lines are truly needed.

Since the company announced its plans to construct the line this summer, Duke has said the lines will help strengthen the electric grid and manage a burgeoning need for electricity in the company’s western service territory, which has much less generation capability than other parts of Duke’s system. The lines would run from Asheville to Campobello, S.C.

Each year, Duke is required by the North Carolina Utilities Commission to file an Integrated Resource Plan, a long-range planning document detailing infrastructure needs for forecasted electricity requirements for the next 15 years, including transmission infrastructure needs.

In Duke’s September 2014 IRPs for both Duke Energy Progress and Duke Energy Carolinas service territories, the company does not list a planned transmission project similar to the proposed Foothills Transmission Lines.

It does, however, allude to a potential project in the Asheville area and the shortcomings of the transmission capability there, and a Duke spokesman said plans for the transmission lines came about when the opportunity arose to convert the Asheville plant to natural gas.

In the IRPs, Duke explains that the company “monitors the adequacy and reliability of its transmission system and interconnections through internal analysis and participation in regional reliability groups.” Internal analysis “looks 10 years ahead at available generating resources and projected load to identify transmission system upgrade and expansion requirements.”

Certain reliability groups assess the system’s ability to handle large transactions, ensure that future transmission system improvements don’t adversely affect neighboring systems and ensure the system is in compliance with North American Electric Reliability Corp. standards.

Those groups look at peak season in the next five -and 10-year periods, the IRP states, and perform computer simulation tests to “verify satisfactory transfer capability.”

Both IRPs then state that after careful review of the company’s transmission systems, both are “expected to continue to provide reliable service to its native load and firm transmission customers.”

This statement seems to contradict repeated claims by Duke officials, including Glenn Snider, Duke’s director of resource planning and analytics for the Carolinas. Snider told the North Carolina Utilities Commission Public Staff and a packed crowd of roughly 1,000 at Blue Ridge Community College on Sept. 3 that “we alluded to the need for the new transmission line in our 2014 IRP as a potential project that we were looking at to help deal with growing needs in our western service territory.”

What really sparked the transmission line project, Snider said in a phone interview, was the possibility of using transmission in lieu of building oil-fired turbines known as “peakers” at the Asheville generating plant. The turbines are inefficient and only fired up during times of high need.

The transmission lines were alluded to in the IRP as a potential alternative to building those peakers, he said, allowing Duke to provide the additional capacity through transmission.

And, indeed, under Appendix A: Quantitative Analysis, the IRP for the Duke Energy Progress region states, “Additional fast start generation capacity is projected to be needed in the Asheville area in the 2019 timeframe if the electrical transmission constraints into the region are not addressed. There is currently a project under consideration to bring additional transmission into the Asheville area that could eliminate the need for additional fast start CTs (combustion turbines).”

A lot of the work that goes into creating IRPs, which are filed in September, happens in early to mid-summer, Snider explained.

Since then, as the company was studying the Asheville plant, complying with North Carolina Coal Ash Management Act and “a host of federal and state environmental standards” that influence the cost of running the coal plant, an opportunity arose in the expansion of PSNC’s natural gas pipeline along Interstate 26.

Duke had to act fast on the pipeline or miss the opportunity, and decided to convert the Asheville plant, company officials have said.

“So the option became ‘Oh, if we move quickly we can avoid spending money at the coal plant and can participate in this pipeline opportunity,” Snider said, adding that low natural gas prices were the third part of the equation.

But, “the wires were always a solution for load growth,” Snider said of the transmission line project.

Coal versus natural gas

In planning models up through and including 2014, Duke planned on having the coal assets including the Asheville plant in operation until 2030. The transmission lines were being considered, whether the Asheville plant was converted to gas or not, he said.

Snider explained that the lines are needed to help meet peak demand, which last winter reached roughly 1,200 megawatts, though the system currently has an import capability of 750 megawatts, with a generation capability in the region of about 865 megawatts.

Just meeting that peak demand is not enough, though, he said.

“You have to have levels of redundancy in both transmission and generation,” Snider said.

For example, if a rock slide knocked out a tower holding transmission lines or the flow of a natural gas pipeline was interrupted, there needs to be enough capacity in the system to cover the gap and meet that peak demand, avoiding blackouts, he explained.

“The transmission helps to serve the load, but some has to be left un-utilized to be able to handle one of those units (going) offline,” Snider said.

When it closes the Asheville coal plant, Duke will retire approximately 380 megawatts of coal generation, Snider said, and scrap plans to build 126 mW in oil-fired turbine capacity. With the subtraction of that roughly 500 mW in generation capability and the addition of the 650-700 mW that will be produced at the new gas plant, only about 200 mW of generation is being added to the region.

In essence, Snider said, Duke is taking 500 out and putting in 650-700.

The 2014 IRP for Duke Energy Carolinas region states a consumption and annual growth rate for all customers at 1.5 percent, and Snider said it holds true for Duke Energy Progress as well. However, those numbers are system averages, Snider said, and the west has historically grown more in the 2-3 percent range.

The Duke Energy Progress West region encompasses Avery, Buncombe, Haywood, Madison, Yancey and Mitchell counties and partially serves Henderson, Transylvania, Jackson and McDowell counties.

The transmission line project is slated to run primarily through the Duke Energy Carolinas region, which partially serves Henderson, Transylvania, Jackson and McDowell counties and includes all of Polk County and Upstate South Carolina.

Generation and transmission support one another in serving load growth, Snider said, adding that if peak demand is currently at 1,200 mW and the growth rate is 2 percent, then next year, the peak will be about 25 mW higher, and in four years 100 mW higher.

So the couple hundred megawatts of added generation capability must be paired with the transmission capability to meet needs down the road, he said. Duke’s not planning just to meet 2020 needs, but wants to build for years to come.

“This couple hundred (megawatts) keeps us from coming back” with another plan to meet growing demand, Snider said. “We could be coming back in one or two years saying, ‘what do we do for 2022, 2023?’”

Weighing the facts

Chris Ayers, executive director of the North Carolina Utilities Commission Public Staff, said the weight that those previous assessments will hold in the approval process is left up to the North Carolina Utilities Commission. The commission will weigh all input after Duke files its Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Convenience and Necessity to decide whether the transmission line is warranted.

“We think right now that this provides probably the most reliable, most robust, lowest-cost solution for the long run,” Snider said. “We’re going to work hard not to let lights go out, no matter what.”

If the transmission line project is denied, Snider said he can’t say whether that means the coal plant will continue to operate. The company will be developing contingency plans, but doesn’t have one firm plan in place yet.

“We don’t want to leave you with the impression that we’re going to let the lights go out,” he said.

Read more

High tension wires: Duke Energy and Henderson County residents at odds over proposed transmission lines

MountainXpress, September 18

Power giant Duke Energy’s proposal for a 45-mile transmission line through Western North Carolina, part of the company’s multifaceted Western Carolinas Modernization project to upgrade and integrate the mountains with a larger regional power grid, is meeting staunch opposition from residents since the company announced its intentions in mid-July.

Homeowners, local municipalities and environmental groups in and around Henderson County have raised concerns over the economic and ecological impact of the project and are calling on Duke to consider less-invasive alternatives, such as using existing routes or burying the line underground.

Although Duke and the North Carolina Utilities Commission have been urging patience while an official proposal for the project is being finalized, community members have been speaking out about their reservations and literally taking to the streets in a vigorous display of social activism to protect their homes and livelihoods from the perceived threats.

Read more

Duke Energy gets ‘F’ for impact on climate change policy in new report

Charlotte Business Journal, Sept. 21, 2015

Duke Energy ranks among the most obstructive major corporations on climate change policy, according to a report released last week by a British nonprofit organization.

The Charlotte-based utility giant (NYSE:DUK) calls the report methodology flawed and rejects its conclusions.

The report, Measuring Corporate Influence on Climate Policy, was prepared by a group called Influence Map. It ranks 100 major corporations worldwide by whether they are constructively engaged in addressing the issue using a methodology developed by researchers with the Union for Concerned Scientists.

Global list

Influence Map looked at the largest companies on the Forbes Global 2000 list (excluding financial services companies and state-owned enterprises) and the worlds two largest privately held corporations, grading them on a series of climate policy issues.

Duke is one of just four corporations to get an “F” overall from the group. It ranks only three places above last-place Koch Industries. That is the oil company owned by Charles and David Koch, famous for their implacable opposition to government efforts to address global warming.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Erin Culbert says her company questions the credibility of the report, contending it “appears to compile an Internet search to mischaracterize the company’s position and our real work to lower our carbon footprint.”

Read more

Power lines, pipelines and property rights

Citizen-Times Guest Column

Property owners in Henderson and Polk counties are learning about the limits on their rights to control the property they own and to control what happens to the hillside they view from their back porch.

When electric power lines and pipelines are needed for the public use and benefit, the state of North Carolina grants private companies the right to condemn the property necessary for their projects. So when Duke Energy provides a case that the increasing use of electricity in Western North Carolina justifies the installation of a new power line from South Carolina leading up to Asheville, they are granted the ability to condemn the property along a selected route for the transmission line. While Duke Energy must pay for the easements, the price can be set by a third party if the current property owner simply does not want to offer an easement for sale. And the current property owner has limited recourse in their attempts to hold on to what they own.

Legitimate questions about the need for this electric power line or the alternatives for this project can be raised. Receiving a report documenting that the project is truly for public benefit is a reasonable expectation for people who may have their property condemned for the public interest. A property owner should expect that Duke Energy, or any private company, would show that alternatives have been considered and ruled out for overwhelming reasons.

Living through the experience where a private company takes what you or your neighbor owns and provides you with a price you did not agree to can teach us all a valuable lesson in our country’s laws. I hope we all ask our elected members of Congress and General Assembly if they believe the bar providing a private company the power to condemn our land is set at the right level. Read more

Greenville Water: Duke project would harm water quality

Greenville Online

Greenville Water System says one route proposed for a Duke Energy transmission line project that cuts through the water system’s watershed could threaten water quality for its 500,000 customers.

Water system leaders have expressed concern over the quality of water in its North Saluda Watershed in northern Greenville County if Duke Energy clear-cuts a path through the protected watershed to install transmission towers and maintains the lines using herbicides that could leach into the reservoir.

The water system also raised legal questions about Duke Energy’s authority to condemn property in the Greenville County watershed to build the transmission line project.

The legal question was raised in a letter filed Thursday to the South Carolina Public Service Commission by Greenville Water Chairman Phillip Kilgore and CEO David Bereskin.

“We have serious questions whether Duke Energy has legal right to the property owned by Greenville Water (or the City of Greenville),” they said.

Greenville Water holds superior condemnation authority to Duke Energy because the water system is a political subdivision of the state of South Carolina while Duke is a private corporation, they wrote. Read more

September 15: Public meeting of Tryon Board of Commissioners and Duke Energy Officials

Tryon Daily Bulletin

After deciding not to approve a resolution against Duke Energy’s modernization plan that could mean transmission towers being installed through Polk County, the Tryon Board of Commissioners has scheduled a meeting with Duke officials on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 6 p.m.

The meeting will be at the Tryon Fire Department with the purpose of hearing from Duke officials regarding the new transmission line. Read more

City of Hendersonville adopts resolution on power line

Hendersonville Lighting, September 10, 2015

Bolstering a letter it wrote last month to Duke Energy, the Hendersonville City Council on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for an independent review of the need for a 45-mile transmission line through Henderson County and asking the utility to make concessions on the size and nature of the infrastructure.

The City Council’s action means that the Board of Commissioners and the elected leaders of all five towns have now formally weighed in on the transmission line.
Drafted jointly by city and county officials and elected leaders, the resolution calls on the Public Staff of the Utilities Commission to hire a consultant to conduct an independent analysis of the need for the line and calls on Duke to make the power line less noticeable, to bury the line if possible and work with local government on a greenway.
“What we’re saying is we’re stating our desires to both groups and we’ll go into the details when the time comes,” said Councilman Jeff Miller. “But the threshold question hasn’t been answered. That is, if the transmission line is going through.”
Councilman Jerry Smith said he would like to know whether Duke Energy intends to grant any of the requests.
“If we’re going to send part of this to the Utilities Commission and part of this to Duke Energy it would certainly be in good faith if Duke Energy would make any statement as to whether or not they were going to follow any of these,” said Councilman Jerry Smith. “We’re asking Duke Energy to do things. I don’t know what requirements there are to follow these.”
Smith asked City Attorney Sam Fritschner whether individuals or groups have the legal right to attend the Utilities Commission meetings and speak.
“Does any body — a person or collective group — have standing if they either want to be present to make a statement or in the end if they disagree with the Utilities Commission — to go to court and say they made the wrong decision?” Smith asked.
“The statute requires that any resident of Henderson County has the right to attend the hearings,” Fritschner said. “My guess is they would have the right to speak.”

Read more