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!

Guest columnist: Duke’s plan, our challenge

Asheville Citizen-Times Guest Column, November 20, 2015

Duke Energy’s new plan is a vast improvement. It’s better even though the new plant will continue to emit climate warming greenhouse gases and depend on fracking for gas supply.

The new plan eliminates the use of coal and it omits new transmission lines across environmentally sensitive areas of Western North Carolina. But the most meaningful part of the new plan is Duke’s challenge to us, expressed in the words of Lloyd Yates, Duke’s president of the Carolinas region.

In Duke’s Nov. 4 press release he is quoted saying: “We’re eager to ramp up our efforts in working with the community to reduce power demand across the region through energy efficiency, demand response, renewable energy and other technologies to work collectively to avoid building additional generation in the area for as long as possible.”

Yates’ statement embodies the essential elements of a truly modern plan for WNC. First, Duke wants to work with us. Collectively. Hooray! Let’s take them at their word and mobilize to help. Individuals, businesses, environmental advocates, and faith communities can all get involved. Let’s create a new grassroots organization like Habitat for Humanity, maybe calling it “Energy for Humanity.” I envision neighbors helping neighbors to improve energy efficiency and adopt renewable sources throughout our community, giving special attention to those least able to afford it.

Second, Duke challenges us to reduce our dependence on their fossil fuel generation. Hooray! This is the right thing for our region, our nation, our world, and for future generations. Duke wants to do it through renewable energy like wind and solar. Let’s help by getting local governments to ease permitting and application headaches and promote opportunities for people to pool their resources in community projects.

Duke wants to do it through demand response. Let’s get on board. Duke already pays customers to allow control of our water heaters at strategic times. I encourage everyone to sign up for this program and then ask Duke to provide more options. By making our demand for power flexible, we can help Duke reduce new power plant and transmission needs and make it easier for them to accommodate intermittent sources like solar and wind.

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Why did Duke Energy change course on power line?

Asheville Citizen-Times, november 10, 2015
Large corporations tend to operate like ocean liners: Once they get moving in a certain direction, it’s awfully hard for them to steer in another.

So what made Duke Energy, number 116 this year on the Fortune 500 list of the biggest companies in the United States, change its mind on running a large transmission line from its generating plant in Skyland to Campobello, S.C.?

Duke officials said last week they became convinced by public opposition that changing their plans to retool the Skyland plant and thus end the need for the power line was better for all concerned. Most likely, requirements in state law that Duke clean up coal ash at the plant played a role too.

Duke surely expected that such a large project would get some push back from the people affected, although Robert Sipes, Duke’s general manager for its Asheville-based western region, said company officials were “surprised by the volume and intensity of the response.”

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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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Duke Energy sees slower demand growth but says it needs more new power plants

Charlotte Business Journal, October 20, 2015

Duke Energy’s latest long-term plans for the Carolinas show the company expects power demand to grow more slowly than previously projected. But plans still call for building more new generation than it did a year ago.

Critics contend Duke (NYSE:DUK) manipulated the calculation of how much reserve power it will need over the next 15 years to justify unnecessary plant construction. Charlotte-based Duke contends the larger reserves are necessary.

The latest projections are included in the Integrated Resource Plan for Duke’s two Carolinas utilities. The IRP is a report submitted annually to regulators in both states to lay out, in a general way, what the utilities see as their needs and expectations for power supply over the coming 15 years.

Utilities are required to have reserve margins in their power supply to ensure power is available in case of unexpected outages. In the Carolinas, utilities determine those margins, but their calculations must be approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission and the S.C. Public Service Commission.

Suspicious timing

For 2015, Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress have proposed reserve margins of 17%. That is up from 14.5% in 2014.

Jim Warren, executive director of the environmental advocacy group NC WARN, says the timing of Duke’s decision that reserve margins should increase is suspicious.

“Demand is down, and we’ve complained for some time that there is a glut of juice available in the Southeast,” he says. “What better way to claim under these circumstances that you still need to build new plants than to inflate the reserves needed and claim you need a boost in standby power.”

Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless says there is no manipulation. The two Duke utilities commissioned a new study of reserve margins that showed the need for additional capacity.

One key consideration, he says, is that the utilities now find themselves in what had once been the unusual situation for Southeast utilities of hitting the highest demand of the year in the winter months rather than in the summer months.

“When you start peaking in the winter, some resources for responding to those peaks are not available as they would be in the summer,” he says.

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