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May 19, 2024 3:01 pm

by Lisa Sorg, NC Newsline
April 23, 2024

While monthly average carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reached a record high of 425.4 parts per million last month, Duke Energy’s proposed carbon plan could delay legally required greenhouse gas reductions, rely on the expansion of natural gas, and burden low-income households with higher monthly energy bills — as much as 73%.

Over the next week, the N.C. Utilities Commission is hosting three public hearings — one virtual and two in-person — where people can testify about the plan. The commission is also accepting written public comments. Duke Energy can’t implement the plan until it receives commission approval.

What’s in the carbon plan?

As Newsline previously reported, this version of the carbon plan is a do-over of the utility’s original projections that the Utilities Commission approved last year. North Carolina’s “substantial economic development successes” Duke Energy said, prompted it to reanalyze its forecasts for supply and demand. “Interest over the past year from new large-load customers exploring siting new facilities” in North Carolina “has occurred at a scale and pace that is well beyond the Companies’ historical experience,” utility officials wrote.

Coal

The Allen plants in Gaston County were scheduled to be retired in March; the new plan postpones their mothballing until December. By 2035, coal will be eliminated from the utility’s energy mix.

Natural gas

Natural gas,while emitting less carbon dioxide, is the primary source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, entering the atmosphere. Although carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere longer than methane, the latter does far more damage in its short lifetime.

The new plan now includes the operation of the controversial and much-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline, which runs from West Virginia through Virginia to the North Carolina line. The proposed MVP Southgate extension from Virginia to Rockingham County has not been finalized; Equitrans, the pipeline operator, recently announced major changes to the Southgate line, shortening the route and containing it within Rockingham County instead of proceeding through Alamance County. Equitrans has not yet issued a map of the new route, nor has it received any state environmental permits.

With the availability of the MVP gas, Duke plans to build two new natural gas plants in North Carolina, including Person County. That will add another 2,720 megawatts of natural gas to the electric grid, a third more than previously projected. The additional natural gas plant in Person County coincides with plans for a controversial liquified natural gas storage facility in the southeastern part of the county.

Dominion Energy plans to run a pipeline from Rockingham County to Person County, where it will connect with Duke’s new plants. And Transco plans to expand its existing pipeline that enters North Carolina near Charlotte and traverses northeast through the Triad and into Rockingham County.

Nuclear power

In addition to Duke’s three large nuclear plants — Shearon Harris in Wake County, McGuire in Mecklenburg County, and Brunswick in Brunswick County — the utility is proposing to build new units at its Belews Creek site in Stokes County.

SMRs, as these smaller units are known, are a quarter of the size of a conventional nuclear plant and have more compact, simplified designs. However, SMRs are a nascent technology and have not been commercially deployed. NuScale, which had planned to build several commercially viable SMRs in Utah, canceled the project after costs topped $9 billion. Duke plans to build seven SMRs in the state by mid-century.

Solar

The new plan adds more solar energy than under the previous plan, reaching 17,500 megawatts within 15 years. Additional battery storage paired with solar could boost the resource’s availability at night.

Wind

Duke still plans to build an offshore wind farm off the Brunswick County coast, even after selling the company’s commercial renewable energy arm last year. However, the first pulse of energy won’t arrive until 2033 or 2034, about two years later than originally planned. Duke had not factored on-shore wind into the mix, but now plans to build a farm — somewhere — to be in service by 2033. The two wind power sources are projected to make up a total of 2% of the energy mix in 2033, increasing to 12% by mid-century.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: info@ncnewsline.com. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.