Modernization plan off promised path

Citizen-Times by guest columnists Kelly Martin and Joan Walker

Two years ago, the Asheville Beyond Coal coalition was instrumental in the passage of the City of Asheville’s Clean Energy Resolution. That resolution, adopted unanimously by Asheville City Council on Oct. 22, 2013, created a partnership between Duke Energy and the city to help Asheville meet its carbon reduction goals “by decreasing its reliance on fossil fuels, including transitioning from coal to electricity provided by clean renewable energy sources.”

Duke Energy supported passage of the resolution, and we believed that partnership would put the region on a path toward replacing the coal plant with homegrown clean energy and phasing out the use of fossil fuels in Western North Carolina. We are thrilled that Duke Energy is retiring the coal plant at Lake Julian, a critical first step toward ending reliance on fossil fuels.

In light of this history, however, we find Duke Energy’s “WNC Modernization Plan” deeply troubling.

Rather than aligning with the goals in the resolution to transition to clean energy, Duke’s plan doubles down on powering our region with fossil fuels for decades to come, preventing the city from meeting its carbon reduction goals, and exporting electricity while our community bears the brunt of the impacts from new, large scale transmission lines.

The “modernization” calls for Duke to build a 650-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant and an approximately 40-mile, 230-kiloVolt (kV) transmission line from a new substation to be built in Campobello, S.C., to the Lake Julian plant.

So far, Duke has not provided solid data to support its claim that our region needs this massive buildout. Thousands of WNC and Upstate South Carolina residents want and deserve to know the justification for this project and whether Duke is choosing the most economically and environmentally viable solution option. Has Duke even analyzed the opportunities for clean, renewable energy to power our region? Where is their commitment to the city partnership to work toward clean energy solutions?

Elected officials in Polk County and Mills River, among others, have passed resolutions opposing this massive project, our federal representatives Patrick McHenry and Mark Meadows oppose the plans, and more people are joining the cause and asking Duke for answers each day. Hundreds of people and groups have come together under the banner of the Carolina Land Coalition.

The Asheville Beyond Coal coalition is adding its voice to this grassroots movement by calling on Duke Energy to publicly provide data that supports its claims of increased energy demand that would justify the near doubling of electric generation in WNC.

We also call on Duke to publicly provide its analysis regarding the potential for energy efficiency and renewable energy sources to power the mountains.

If a natural gas plant is indeed needed here, it should be sized to provide the electricity needed only after all renewable energy generation and energy efficiency is maximized — and the plant should not be sized to export power out of the region. In addition, transmission lines should not threaten to disrupt hundreds of property owners, sensitive ecological habitats, and the visual beauty of the southern mountains.

Duke has a profit incentive to build this gas plant and the transmission line as large as possible, because it is guaranteed a rate of return on all capital investments. The Asheville Beyond Coal coalition and our supporters call on Duke Energy to prioritize the health of the people, environment and economy of this region over stockholder profits. A truly modern plan would include large scale renewable energy investments, be appropriately sized and sited, and would not impact important natural areas and viewsheds or fragment our irreplaceable farmlands and communities.

Kelly Martin is the senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in North Carolina. Joan Walker and is MountainTrue’s campaign coordinator. To find out more and get involved, visit carolinalandcoalition.org. 

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