Duke pulls the plug on 45-mile transmission line, but will still replace coal plant with natural gas

op dukeIn response to public opposition to its proposed 45-mile Foothills Transmission Line, Duke Energy has settled on a revised plan that will eliminate the need for the transmission line and Campobello substation.

Instead, Duke will replace its coal-fired power plant in Asheville with two smaller gas units rather than the single large one originally proposed. 

The revised plan aims to balance the demand for reliable power with the “least possible impact on communities, property owners and the environment,” according to Lloyd Yates, president of Duke’s Carolinas region. 

Environmental advocates who had opposed the original plan see the move as an improvement, though not the best-case scenario. 

“Thankfully, Duke Energy’s announcement spares the mountains from the massive scar its proposed transmission line would have carved out,” said D.J. Gerken, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Asheville. “And while it is good news that Duke Energy also trimmed its overbuilt proposal for a natural gas plant, the company must do more to power our communities with clean and renewable energy, not decades more of fossil fuels.”

Avram Friedman, executive director of the Sylva-based environmental advocacy organization The Canary Coalition, agreed. It’s “good news” that Duke is abandoning its transmission line plan, but the company is still in the business of promoting increased energy consumption to “provide them(selves) with a healthy profit,” he said. 

Friedman called for public policy changes that would encourage decentralization of power production, encouraging movements such as what he calls the rooftop solar energy revolution. 

“These policy changes are inherently contrary to the economic self-interests of the public utility industry (Duke),” he said. 

Duke, meanwhile, points out that WNC is growing, and with that growth comes increased energy demand. Since 1970, peak power demand has more than tripled in Duke Energy Progress’s Western Region, according to a company press release. Over the next decade, demand is expected to increase by more than 15 percent. 

“Our challenge now is to support that growth while working with the community to reduce the region’s peak power and ongoing demand through much more participation in energy efficiency programs, demand response and renewable energy,” said Robert Sipes, Duke Energy’s general manager of delivery operations for the Western Carolinas. 

Duke plans to retire its Asheville coal units by 2020, replacing them with natural gas units and a solar power plant on site. Depending on demand, Duke could build a third gas unit in 2023. 

Duke estimates that the new gas units will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from the plant by 90 to 95 percent, nitrogen oxide by 35 percent, water withdrawal by 97 percent, water discharge by half and carbon dioxide by 60 percent per megawatt-hour, while also eliminating mercury discharge. 

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