By VICTOR SKINNER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Duke Energy is continuing to work through plans to reduce its reliance on coal-fired power in favor of renewable sources that can be intermittent during peak use times.
Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress are currently vetting plans to shut down 14 coal-fired units between 2024 and 2034 through a series of public meetings on a broader Carbon Plan required by a state law approved last year.
Duke Energy hopes to reduce energy generated by coal to just 5% by 2030 and to eliminate it entirely by 2035 to meet goals outlined in the law.
The company currently relies on coal for about 22% of electricity output, after closing 56 coal-fired units since 2010, WFAE reports.
The coal plant closures are expected to play a big role in the company’s goal to cut carbon emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030, and to hit net-zero emissions — including purchased power and indirect emissions from suppliers — by 2050. Those targets are also set in state law.
Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good told analysts in February the reductions will require $63 billion in capital spending, much of it on solar, wind and other renewable energy technology.
“Our clean energy strategy requires significant investment and we’re now budgeting $63 billion over the next five years – 80% of which represents investments toward our clean energy transition,” Ms. Good said.
Duke Energy’s carbon plan, however, has faced pushback from several sides, from those concerned about increasing costs to environmental advocates skeptical it will meet the mandated emissions reductions.
The law requires a “least-cost” approach to emission reductions through fewer coal-fired power plants and increased reliance on natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The “Energy Solutions for North Carolina” law – House Bill 951 – tasks the utilities commission with finalizing a plan with Duke Energy by the end of the year to meet the emissions reduction requirements.
Isaac Orr and Mitch Rolling, researchers with the Center of the American Experiment, recently analyzed four options developed by Duke Energy on behalf of the Center for Food, Power, and Life at the John Locke Foundation and found none meet the law’s “least-cost” requirement, in part because of the heavy reliance on renewable energy.
In addition to increased costs of more than $100 billion by 2050, or $174 per month per customer, “the reliability of the grid is going to be hampered,” said Jon Sanders, who led the study for the Center for Food, Power, and Life.
He predicts the current plans’ reliance on renewable energy could eventually require utilities to implement load shedding, or rationing power to avoid overwhelming the system.
“As an end user, we would be getting the same product that we are already getting at a higher rate, and it’s much less reliable,” Mr. Sanders told The Carolina Journal in July. “We would be worse off, and that is not in the spirit of the law — It is certainly not in the spirit of the North Carolina utilities law, but it is also not in the spirit of what was passed in [H.B.] 951.”
Environmentalists with CleanAIRE NC have also criticized the plans for failing to meet goals outlined by the General Assembly, as well as cost and infrastructure concerns.
“All of them are relatively expensive, and there are pretty big question marks about technology types, the infrastructure that’s needed,” director Joel Porter told the Journal.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission is scheduled to hold an expert witness hearing on Duke Energy’s proposed plans in Raleigh on Sept. 13.Public meetings on the carbon plan concluded in August, but the commission continues to collect public comment through its website with a reference to Docket No. E-100 Sub 179.