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Groups criticize Duke Energy carbon plan for reliance on gas

Duke Energy's Allen plant in Gaston County and other coal-fired power plants could be closed earlier than planned when state regulators decide how to reach the governor's goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
David Boraks
Duke Energy's Allen plant in Gaston County and other coal-fired power plants will be closed to help meet the state's goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

Businesses, consumers and environmental groups are criticizing Duke Energy's proposed plan to reduce carbon from energy generation in North Carolina.

The plan is required by last year's state energy reform law, HB 951, which calls for reducing carbon from energy production by 70% by 2030 and to net-zero by 2050. Dukefiled its plan in May, offering four scenarios for closing coal-fired plants by 2035, reducing energy use and adding renewable and other carbon-free energy.

Comments filed last week with the North Carolina Utilities Commission are critical of Duke's plan. That includes proposals to add more natural gas-fired power plants and unproven technologies like small nuclear reactors.

Some commenters said Duke's plans will keep them from meeting their own climate goals. Walmart said in its filing that Duke failed to justify the need for new gas plants, which although cleaner than coal would continue to emit carbon for decades.

Google and Apple said Duke is too focused on keeping ownership and control of energy plants. They said that raises costs and reduces carbon too slowly. The big tech companies were among those who presented their own alternative carbon plans.

The environmental group NC WARN and Charlotte NAACP complained in a joint filing that the plan doesn't include enough rooftop solar or battery storage.

Because wind and solar energy are variable, Duke spokesperson Bill Norton says Duke needs natural gas.

"Wherever feasible our plan has significant energy storage to provide this backup. In fact, all but one of our portfolios has more storage than gas. But gas still has to play a complementary role until storage costs come down further," Norton said.

Norton added that Duke has worked with many stakeholders "to produce the most efficient, reliable and least-cost way to deliver the clean energy our customers deserve and expect. And that remains our priority today."

Other comments on the plan came from faith groups and local officials, including the city of Charlotte, Asheville and Buncombe County, and Durham County.

Person County, which is home to two Duke Energy coal-fired power plants, worries about the loss of jobs and tax revenues when those plants close.

The energy reform law gives the utilities commission until year's end to adopt a plan. Public hearings are being held this month, including one in Charlotte July 28.

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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.