North Carolina rejects NC WARN petition for evidentiary hearing on Duke gas plant, modernization

The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) has rejected a petition by Climate Times and NC WARN for an evidentiary hearing on the revised Western Carolinas modernization plan by a Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) subsidiary, which includes construction of a 752-MW natural gas power plant near Asheville, N.C.

Duke Energy Progress (DEP) is proceeding with its application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) to build a 752-MW natural gas-fueled generation facility consisting of two new gas-fueled 280 MW combined-cycle units and a natural gas-fueled 192 MW simple-cycle combustion turbine unit.

Duke Energy announced in November that it was revising its plans to replace its coal plant in Asheville, with a smaller gas-fueled station. Duke also abandoned plans for the 230-kV Foothills Transmission Line.

NC WARN said on its website Jan. 15 that it is fighting a “rubber stamp” of the plan due to an “unprecedented state law” that calls upon NCUC to rule upon the Duke proposal within 45 days.

On Dec. 18, the chairman of the NCUC issued an order scheduling a public hearing and requesting an investigation and report by public staff. In the order, the chairman cited Session Law 2115-110.

Among other things, the law requires the commission to ‘hold a single public hearing on the application … [and] and require the applicant to publish a single notice of the public hearing in a newspaper of general circulation in Buncombe County,” NCUC said in its Jan. 15 order.

Duke would be required to permanently cease operation of all coal-fired generating units at the site “on or before the commercial operation” the new gas-fired project being sought in the application.

NC WARN and Climate Times had argued that until an evidentiary hearing is held, or the application is denied as incomplete, the NCUC staff and the public won’t have a chance to properly review the application “in a meaningful way.”

NC WARN and Climate Times also question the need for the new gas-fired power generation. The foes also urged the NCUC to look at the “full cost” of the natural gas power plant and to consider “that natural gas prices may not remain low.”

But Duke has argued that the law is clear “that the General Assembly intended an expedited review process for any application meeting the stated requirements of the session law. DEP contends that the Movants have provided no justification for their request that the Commission ignore the express instructions of the General Assembly.”

In its decision, NCUC said this is not the first time that the North Carolina General Assembly has required the commission to give expedited consideration for the construction of a new natural gas power plant.  

“After careful consideration, the Chairman, therefore, concludes that the Movants’ motion for an evidentiary hearing or, in the alternative, to deny DEP’s application as incomplete until an evidentiary hearing is held should be denied,” according to the NCUC order.

The case, In the Matter of Application by Duke Energy Progress to construct a 752-MW Natural Gas-Fueled Electric Generation Facility in Buncombe County is DOCKET NO. E-2, SUB 1089.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.