Archived Outdoors

Scaled-down plans for Duke’s Asheville plant approved

NorthCarolinaLargeDuke Energy Progress’s plan to replace its coal-fired power plant in Asheville with natural gas has garnered partial approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission.

The Commission has OK’d Duke’s proposal to build two 280-megawatt natural gas units — replacing its 376-megawatt coal plant — but denied its request to build a third unit in 2023. 

Duke hoped to get advance approval for the third unit to be built down the road, even though the current load doesn’t warrant it. But the utility commission instead will require Duke to come back to the table for permission to build the third unit, if and when consumer energy demand reaches that point.

The approved request represents a significant trimming down from Duke’s original proposal, which called for a 45-mile transmission line to a planned substation in Campobello, South Carolina. Duke pulled the plug on that plan following loud public opposition and replaced it with the plan for two smaller plants in Asheville — with the option of a third later. 

Duke says the plan points to the company’s commitment to clean energy — natural gas burns cleaner than coal — but some environmental advocates say the plan, even though it represents a significant trimming down from the original proposal, points the region in the wrong direction energy-wise. 

“We are disappointed that the Commission embraced the remainder of Duke’s plan to commit WNC to a fossil fuel future,” said D.J. Gerken, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This oversized gas plant is about making profit, not meeting demonstrated customer need. Worse, it could crowd out opportunities for renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

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The new units will serve Duke’s nine-county western region, which includes more than 350,000 people, and cost about $1 billion to build. The coal plant will be retired by 2020. 

“We also have a unique opportunity to work with the community to reduce energy demand and invest in technology that will provide cleaner energy to power the growing region of Western North Carolina,” said David Fountain, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president. “This project will allow us to continue to provide cost-effective, reliable power for all of our customers.”

According to a press release from Duke, the company may file an application down the road to build an additional 186-megawatt plant but would cancel those plans if its “efforts to reduce peak load growth” are successful. 

The company has also said it will file a future application for 15 megawatts of new solar generation after the Asheville coal palnt is decommissioned and coal ash excavation completed. It will look for approval to install at least 5 megawatts of utility-scale electricity storage as well. 

— By Outdoors Editor Holly Kays

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