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Duke Energy files Carbon Plan 2.0, listing gas and nuke plant sites

Coal at the Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman is seen in 2016. The bill calls on state regulators to draw up a plan for closing and replacing coal-fired power.
David Boraks
Coal at the Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman. The plant will close by 2035, and Duke Energy wants to replace it with a new gas-fired plant that also could burn hydrogen.

Duke Energy filed plans Tuesday for meeting growing electricity demand and reducing the use of fossil fuels to address climate change. Coal plants are going away, but new gas-fired power plants and small nuclear reactors will take their place, along with renewable energy.

The filing updates Duke's initial "carbon plan" required by the state's 2021 energy reform law and approved by North Carolina regulators last December.

"We're putting forward a balanced kind of all-of-the-above proposed resource plan that puts North Carolina on a path to cleaner energy while protecting reliability and affordability," said Kendal Bowman, Duke Energy's North Carolina president.

Among other things, it calls for:

  • Building more gas-fired power plants by 2031, including at the current Roxboro coal plant in Person County and Marshall plant on Lake Norman. 
  • Building new small nuclear plants at the Belews Creek coal plant in Stokes County and at another site to be named.
  • Keeping Duke's previous pledge to close its remaining North Carolina coal-fired plants by 2035. 
  • Adding more solar, wind and battery storage. 
  • Expanding the Bad Creek hydroelectric dam in South Carolina. 

Duke needs the new plants to replace coal and to meet growing electricity demand, said Glen Snider, who oversees planning in the Carolinas.

"We've just seen a marked increase in the energy needs that we're projecting for the state as the economy thrives through economic development activity, (and) as electric vehicle growth in the state is higher than we previously projected," Snider said.

He also said the plan boosts Duke's reserves in case of peak demand, like the cold snap last Christmas Eve that forced Duke to use rolling blackouts that affected 500,000 customers.

"The volumes are now higher (in the plan) to meet the higher load growth in the region. And we plan on increasing the amount of capacity for reliability in terms of a higher reserve margin," Snider said.

Snider said many aspects of the $90 billion plan, including battery storage and locating new facilities on the sites of coal plants, will qualify Duke for tax breaks under last year's Inflation Reduction Act. He didn't have an estimate of the savings.

As it did in its first carbon plan, Duke again offers multiple scenarios — one that would meet the state's goal of cutting fossil fuel use for electricity by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and two that don't.

The plan may not go over well with consumer and environmental advocates. Will Scott, of the Environmental Defense Fund, said it relies too heavily on costly gas plants instead of cheaper wind, solar and battery storage.

"This proposes a near doubling of gas versus the 2022 plan," Scott said. "And that's just a really unfortunate use of resources that will lock in a lot of emissions and also put customers at risk for future fuel price volatility."

A coalition of clean energy advocates issued a statement Tuesday evening listing a variety of initial concerns, including that it does not do enough to take advantage of Inflation Reduction Act incentives.

“We are concerned that Duke is continuing to double down on new, polluting fossil-fueled power plants — the same kinds of plants that lead to rolling blackouts this winter — instead of taking full advantage of more cost-effective energy efficiency, solar and related clean energy solutions," said David Neal, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Cassie Gavin, director of policy at the NC Sustainable Energy Association, said the plan prioritizes shareholders over customers. "Their carbon plan filing is a slap in the face of residents who will bear the brunt of significant rate hikes, largely attributed to the utility’s desire to build costly, unreliable natural gas plants. Groups like NCSEA have already demonstrated that renewables including wind, solar and storage are the most cost-effective and reliable option to keep rates low and the lights on which should be a top priority for a utility that experienced blackouts at the end of 2022,” Gavin said.

The coalition said it plans to review the plan closely and offer comments as it goes through public hearings in the coming months. In 2022, the group conducted its own analysis of Duke's first carbon plan and found that Duke can meet the state's 70% goal by 2030 more cheaply through energy efficiency and solar and wind energy.

Duke filed the plan with South Carolina regulators Tuesday and will file it in North Carolina on Thursday.

Read the plan on Duke's website at https://www.duke-energy.com/our-company/about-us/irp-carolinas.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.