What isn’t Duke Power telling us?

In a new editorial written by David Weintraub of the Center for Cultural Preservation for Blue Ridge Now, Weintraub asks if Duke Power why Duke Power has yet to provide the public with evidence backing up their rationale for pushing the Western Carolinas Modernization Project.

As we know, Duke Power has stated that this project is needed because of growing energy demands in our area.  Weintraub questions the validity of this position, writing:

Duke claims that steady population growth in the region will require it to build a new gas-fired power plant that will generate 650 megawatts of electricity. However, the reality is that U.S. electricity usage peaked in 2007 and has been declining ever since due to both the economy and energy efficiency.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook report, American energy consumption is expected to grow at a modest rate, averaging 0.3 percent a year through 2040, well within the capacity of Duke’s current energy infrastructure. Many experts think even this estimate is too high.

Perhaps a bit controversially, Weintraub also questions if Duke Power is simply putting the public good at risk for the sake of short-term profits for shareholders.  Is natural gas really a good long-term solution to our area’s energy needs, or is it simply what will bring Duke Power the largest possible profits over the next couple years?

So if all this is true, why the potentially intrusive, disruptive plans to build this new power infrastructure? What Duke isn’t saying is that natural gas has become so cheap that converting to it will save Duke billions.

Duke’s switch to natural gas isn’t because it suddenly became a tree hugger. Gas is currently artificially cheap, and so the present economic advantage is wagging the dog. But using fracked gas as a long-term strategy is tenuous at best.

Fracking requires a tremendous amount of capital outlay and drilling because there are far fewer sweet spots in hydraulic fracturing than in conventional drilling, and depletion rates are as high as 85 percent after the first year of drilling. There is a growing number of experts who believe fracking will be financially unfeasible in five years or fewer.

Should Duke be building 45 miles of transmission lines and a new power plant just so shareholders can get a short-term financial gain?

While some will certainly diagree with Weintraub’s stance against fracking, natural gas, and fossil fuel use, concerned citizens should still be asking the same questions he is.  Namely, are our energy needs really expanding as much as Duke Power says they are?  If so, can Duke Power show us how they reached these figures?  Are these changes going to benefit the long-term economic health and energy infrastructure of our area?  Or will we simply have to go through another “Modernization” project in a decade, or even less time?

Duke Power still needs to give us more answers, and until they properly justify the need and rationality behind this project, local citizens will continue to take a stand.