We’ll be your voice on energy

Hendersonville Times-News, Be Our Guest

By Joan Walker

Just before Christmas break, Duke Energy presented a letter to the N.C. Utilities Commission outlining its intent to file the application it needs to build a new and larger natural-gas-fired plant on Lake Julian. This letter of intent has been the source of a good deal of concern and confusion. I’ll do my best to explain what Duke filed and what it means for our communities.

First, a little context. Last year, the N.C. Legislature passed the Mountain Energy Act, which created a fast-track review process specifically for this project. Because time is so short, lawmakers required Duke to give a heads-up to the Utilities Commission so it could schedule a public hearing in a timely manner. That public hearing is Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Buncombe County Courthouse, and the commission has invited the public to attend, learn and provide public testimony.

What made it into Duke’s letter of intent and what was left out are both a cause for celebration and some concern.

The good news is that the transmission lines are off the table. Neither the transmission lines nor a new substation in Campobello, S.C., was included in Duke Energy’s letter of intent. In conversations with MountainTrue and our partners, Duke has reaffirmed its decisions on the transmission lines and that nothing that happens during this application process will bring the lines back. This is fantastic news and a huge relief for all of us.

The less-than-great news is that Duke has informed the commission that it will be submitting applications for not just two new 280-megawatt natural-gas-fired generator units that would come online in 2019, but also for a third 192-MW unit — even though that unit would not be needed until 2023, if ever.

According to Duke, the purpose of this third “peaking” unit would be to provide extra energy generation during peak times at some point in the future when the region’s demand is greater than it is today. Duke has publicly stated that this third unit may not be needed at all if more renewable infrastructure is built and if residents, businesses and government can meet higher energy efficiency goals.

Since November, when Duke Energy announced it would no longer pursue construction of a new transmission line or substation, the company has taken a remarkably more positive approach by listening to the concerns of the community and working with area leaders toward better, more responsible energy solutions. MountainTrue strongly supports this effort and anticipates playing a role in a partnership that includes representatives from Duke Energy, the city of Asheville and Buncombe County.

Having a positive, constructive relationship with Duke is what is best for our region and for building a better future for Western North Carolina, and despite our differences and years of litigation on coal ash pollution, we have that. But that doesn’t mean we stop advocating.

When we come to the table, MountainTrue does its best to represent the interests of the residents of our region. That means fighting for cleaner air, cleaner water and more sustainable energy infrastructure that doesn’t just help us keep the lights on now but into the future as both our community and economy grow.

With Duke Energy’s application for the new gas plant, the company will, for the first time, be required to provide the data to justify the size and scope of the plan. The Utilities Commission has invited interested parties to submit petitions to intervene in the ongoing proceeding, and MountainTrue and the Sierra Club, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, have filed a petition to intervene. This is not a “challenge,” as some have said — it is simply a request to participate in a proceeding where important decisions are being made about the region’s energy future.

For now, we are awaiting more information from Duke about the basis for its proposal and will be giving that a careful review with the help of energy experts and will provide our own analysis to the commission. If warranted, we will provide alternative recommendations to the Utilities Commission that we believe better serve the public good.

Ultimately, the commission will decide whether Duke’s proposal is the best way to provide power to the utility’s Western North Carolina customers.

It bears repeating: None of this will bring back the threat of a transmission line. Advocacy won’t turn back the clock on the retirement of the existing coal plant, a decision that simply makes economic sense for Duke and its customers. Nor will our intervention delay a decision by the commission.

We as a community should applaud Duke for doing good but also continue to push for it to do better. Duke has made a commitment to our community to be an active partner in helping our region move beyond coal, and I am optimistic that it will keep its promise.

But when Duke Energy goes before the Utilities Commission to make its case, we’ll be there to make sure you have a voice at the table.

Joan Walker is campaigns director for MountainTrue (www.mountaintrue.org) and a lead organizer of the Carolina Land Coalition (www.carolinalandcoalition.org).

Tell Henderson County Commissioners you want clean energy!

On January 4, 2016 at 5:30 PM Henderson County will vote on a resolution that wholeheartedly endorses Duke Energy’s Western Carolinas Modernization project despite its inclusion of an unnecessary, additional 192-MW “peaking unit.”

Duke Energy is on the record saying that they want to partner with our local communities to meet future energy demand through expanded efficiency programs and by building more renewable energy infrastructure. However, MountainTrue questions their intent considering their failure to prioritize fossil free solutions in their filings to the utilities commission.

The resolution is on the Henderson County Commission’s consent agenda, so please speak at tonight’s INFORMAL COMMENTS at the commissioner’s meeting.

We need you to urge Henderson County to fully embrace a cleaner, safer, more affordable energy future by issuing a resolution that withholds their support for the “peaking unit”, and endorses a plan that:

  • Spends ratepayer’s money more wisely on energy efficiency and alternative sources that reduce utility bills in the future, rather than leaves us vulnerable to fluctuating gas prices.

  • Creates local jobs and keeps money in our local economy.

  • Gives us more independence from fossil fuel infrastructure and avoids the need for more invasive transmission lines and gas plants in the future.

Henderson County has a great opportunity to shape a better future. We need your help in making sure that we continue to stand united toward a better, cleaner future for Henderson County and all of Western North Carolina.

Please attend!

Tonight, January 4, 2016 at 5:30 pm

1 Historic Courthouse Square, Hendersonville NC

Carolina Land Coalition Carries On!

Last week a group of Carolina Land Coalition leaders met and unanimously agreed that the Carolina Land Coalition will continue to protect our land from Duke Energy’s long-term plans. We dodged a bullet when the transmission lines and substations were cancelled, but WNC will stay in the crosshairs as long as our region’s largest utility continues to prioritize fossil fuels to meet our growing demand.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are realistic, affordable and attainable solutions. These are technologies that create more jobs, help lower utility bills and will keep our air, water and land clean and safe from more power plants and transmission lines in the future. MountainTrue and Carolina Land Coalition are committed to promoting those common sense solutions in partnership with local communities, organizations, governments and, yes, Duke Energy. Compared to the sprint we did together this summer fighting the “modernization” plan, this will be a marathon. I hope you’ll stay with us as we plan and implement this next phase of work!   If you’re interested in playing an active leadership role in the Coalition moving forward please email Joan Walker, MountainTrue’s Campaign Coordinator at joan@mountaintrue.org. 

In the near term, we’re still waiting to see what Duke Energy does next in regards to improvements to existing lines and the new gas plant. When the plan for the new plant is released after the new year, we’ll analyze it and support folks in making public comments to get the very best plan possible. The process for line upgrades is less clear at this point, but we’re doing our best to find out what kind of information Duke is required to share with the public and how the public can give their input. Stay tuned to the website at www.CarolinaLandCoalition.org for updates, a new vision statement and more.

We hope you’ll remain and get even more involved as we move toward a truly modern energy future for our beautiful mountains and communities!

MountainTrue and Sierra Club Respond to Duke Energy’s Revised ‘Modernization’ Project

November 4, 2015

ASHEVILLE, NC –  Duke Energy today announced a dramatic reconfiguration to their Carolinas Modernization Project, scrapping a proposed 40-mile transmission line that would have cut through the counties of Buncombe, Henderson and Polk in North Carolina and Spartanburg in South Carolina; eliminating a new substation in Campobello, S.C.; and reducing the size of a proposed new natural gas plant slated to replace the current coal-fired plant at Lake Julian outside of Asheville.

At the press conference, Duke Energy laid out the specifics of their revision: Whereas the company had initially proposed a single 650-megawatt natural gas-powered plant, Duke Energy now plans to build two side-by-side 280-megawatt natural gas units, 90 megawatts less than what was originally proposed.

The company has said that they will work with the City of Asheville to fulfill the recently adopted Clean Energy Framework and that construction of an additional 190 MW  peaking unit (one that is only used when power demand is at its high) in 2023 could be delayed through greater collaboration on energy efficiency programs, renewable energy, demand-side management, and new technologies.

Julie Mayfield, co-director of MountainTrue — the primary organizer of the Carolina Land Coalition:

“Eliminating transmission lines and a proposed substation is a significant win for the residents of Western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina. We came together, voiced our concerns, and Duke Energy heard our call. We applaud Duke for listening to our communities, going back to the drawing board and setting a new course that is more consistent with our values and respectful of our region’s natural heritage.

Today we can celebrate but tomorrow we go back to work. Though we are pleased the proposed plant is smaller than originally proposed, natural gas is still a major contributor to climate change, and our region is already feeling the impacts.

MountainTrue and the Carolina Land Coalition look forward to working with Duke Energy, the City of Asheville, and others throughout the region to marshal new resources and make meaningful investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and demand reduction. Through that collaborative work, we can achieve the clean energy future we all want and need.”

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Environmental advocates respond to Duke Energy’s review of its ‘Western Carolinas Modernization’ project

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Duke Energy today announced delay its plans and reconsider its options to its originally proposed Western Carolinas Modernization project, which includes a new natural gas-powered station at Lake Julian, “foothill” transmission lines and a new substation in Campobello, S.C.

Duke Energy cited community concerns expressed through more than 9,000 public comments that the utility received from customers and the affected community as the reason to extend the review and to consider alternatives to all components of this plan.

Statement from Julie Mayfield, co-director of MountainTrue:

“We are pleased that Duke Energy is responding to the needs and desires of the people of Western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina. This decision shows what is possible when a community unites to protect the land that we all love, and when a company listens. More than 9,000 concerned residents made their voices heard, and local elected leaders should be thanked for standing strong. As Duke considers its options, we hope they will propose a new plan that respects our communities’ values, needs, and love of the land; includes more renewables and greater use of energy efficiency programs; and lessens our reliance on fossil fuels.

As Duke undertakes its analysis, we will remain united through our partnership with the Carolina Land Coalition. Join the coalition next Sunday, Oct. 18, at the Historic Henderson County Courthouse in Hendersonville for a picnic and rally as we continue to build momentum and move forward a better energy future for all of us.”

Statement from Kelly Martin, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in North Carolina:

“It’s great to see Duke Energy is reconsidering its plans and responding to public outcry about the scale and impact of that building an oversized natural gas plant and massive transmission lines will have on our community.

Duke should now do what it should have from the start: develop a truly modern plan for Western North Carolina that maximizes investments in solar energy, energy efficiency, and battery storage rather than locking our region into reliance on fossil fuel electricity for generations to come.  Clean energy investments are the best bet not only for public health and the environment, but also for the Duke’s customers who will foot the bill for the modernization project.

Energy efficiency measures and solar power are among the most affordable, lowest cost options for electricity, and we expect Duke Energy to take this into account in planning for Western North Carolina’s energy future.”

Statement from Cathy Jackson, vice-president Saluda Business Association and member of the Carolina Land Coalition:

“It’s great that Duke Energy is finally taking the concerns of our communities seriously. We expect this process to lead to a more responsible proposal that address our energy needs without adversely affecting public health, the beauty of our land or the economy of the region. We will stay alert and united through the Carolina Land Coalition, and I invite all concerned residents to join us on October 18, at the Historic Henderson County Courthouse in Hendersonville for the Protect Our Land Community Picnic. Let’s keep the pressure up!”

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Duke Energy working through public comments on Foothills Transmission Line; project update planned for early November

PR Newswire, October 8, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Oct. 8, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — In order to carefully consider the thousands of comments related to the siting of the proposed 230-kilovolt Foothills Transmission Line and Campobello substation, Duke Energy is extending its review process until early November.

“Our goal is to have the best possible plan with the least impact on property owners, the environment and the communities we serve,” said Robert Sipes, general manager of delivery operations for the Western Carolinas. “Concerns about the transmission line and substation – and the potential impact on tourism and mountain views we all enjoy – are significant.

“We want the thousands of property owners and others to know we are listening, and we very much appreciate their patience,” Sipes added. “The job for the Duke Energy team is to offer solutions to as many concerns as we can, including possible alternatives to the transmission line and substation, while also meeting the region’s growing expectation for cleaner and reliable power.”

Sipes noted that the overall modernization plan is addressing a very real problem that is not going away. Power demand, particularly on the coldest and hottest days of the year, will continue to grow, and the region’s electrical infrastructure must be upgraded to meet that increased demand.

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Put brakes on Duke’s line plan

From Blue Ridge Now:

Reading Monday’s article about businesses and farmers concerned over Duke Energy’s proposed “Foothills” transmission line, one gets the impression Duke officials just don’t get it.

A Duke spokesman talks as if the utility will proceed with designing and engineering the line as soon it chooses its preferred route.

That’s not how it will work. The nation’s largest utility faces a bruising battle unless it picks a route that avoids significant vistas, farmlands, neighborhoods and natural features. That seems all but impossible, barring Duke announcing some unforeseen breakthrough at tonight’s meeting of the Public Staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission at Blue Ridge Community College.

It is not just a matter of the company choosing a route and starting design and engineering, as spokesman Ryan Mosier suggested in Monday’s article. The N.C. Utilities Commission will have to approve any route in North Carolina, as will its counterpart in South Carolina.

Although these agencies are unlikely to block the project, disagreement over a route could lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to get involved. And no matter what route Duke chooses — even if it keeps its promise to minimize environmental and social impacts — the utility will face opposition and possibly lawsuits from affected landowners.

Read the full article on BlueRidgeNow.com