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.

New gas line

Duke proposed building the natural gas plant after learning early this year about plans PSNC Energy has for expanding a natural gas pipeline in Asheville that could supply the plant.

The N.C. commission is slated to hear PSNC’s petition to approve its deal to transport natural gas for Duke on Monday. The commission’s Public Staff has recommended approving the petition. In the information provided the commission for the hearing, the staff notes Duke “is expected to apply for a certificate … to construct the new plant … in November.”

The plant would be in commercial operation by November 2019, the public staff says.

Approval recommended

PSNC says the 8-inch pipe now in place in Asheville is sufficient for current needs. But the company says it does not allow for growth in demand or new customer expansion.

So PSNC plans to replace it with a 16-inch pipe and two additional compressors to increase the amount of gas transported by the line.

In addition to the system upgrades,” the public staff says, “PSNC will construct the incremental pipeline facilities necessary to provide transportation redelivery service to (Duke Progress) for use at the proposed … plant.”

The pubic staff recommends that the commission approve the deal. The financial details are confidential.