Duke Energy's Asheville plant. Archive photograph by Micah Wilkins/Carolina Public Press

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ASHEVILLE – Angry reaction to Duke Energy’s plans for Western North Carolina have prompted the company to rethink its strategy.

Duke had promised to reveal the proposed route for its 230-Kv transmission lines between Buncombe County and a substation in South Carolina this month.

Instead, the energy company announced Wednesday that it was scrapping those plans and has come up with a new approach to modernizing the WNC energy infrastructure.

The new plan would:

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  • Replace Duke’s coal plant on Asheville’s Lake Julian with two smaller 280-megawatt natural gas plants, plus an optional 190-megawatt plant that could be added after 2023, rather than the single larger natural gas plant initially proposed. The coal plant would be retired by 2020. The new units would operate with a dual fuel source so oil could serve as an emergency backup, should the gas supply be interrupted.
  • Plan for a utility-scale solar plant at the Lake Julian site.
  • No longer include the substation that Duke originally planned for Campobello, S.C., and the 45-mile transmission line linking the two locations. This line would likely have run across the mountains and foothills in portions of Buncombe, Henderson, Rutherford and Polk counties. Transmission lines and substation upgrades would instead use existing rights-of-way.
  • Focus on reduction in peak power demand and increased efficiency through cooperation across the region.
  • Promote the growth of renewable energy and related technologies in the region.
  • Reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by an estimated 90-to 95 percent and nitrogen oxide by 35 percent, while eliminating mercury.
  • Withdraw 97 percent less water from the lake and discharge 50 percent less.
  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 60 percent as a result of gains in efficiency and the cleaner-burning nature of natural gas versus coal.

“We have been committed to developing a plan to maintain the region’s power reliability with the least possible impact on communities, property owners and the environment from the start of this effort, and we believe our revised plans accomplish those goals,” said Lloyd Yates, Duke executive vice president for market solutions and president for the Carolinas region, in a statement released Wednesday.

“While the previous plan was more robust and scaled for the longer-term, the new plan balances concerns raised by the community and the very real need for more electricity to serve this growing region,” Yates said.

Duke estimates the project’s cost as close to the $1.1 billion project for the original plan.

Regional environmental advocates, who sharply criticized Duke’s original plan, sounded an optimistic tone on Wednesday.

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“Eliminating transmission lines and a proposed substation is a significant win for the residents of WNC and upstate South Carolina,” said Julie Mayfield, co-director of MountainTrue.

“We came together, voiced our concerns, and Duke Energy heard our call. We applaud Duke for listening to our communities, going back to the drawing board and setting a new course that is more consistent with our values and respectful of our region’s natural heritage.”

Even so, Mayfield also expressed caution. “Today we can celebrate but tomorrow we go back to work,” she said. “Though we are pleased the proposed plant is smaller than originally proposed, natural gas is still a major contributor to climate change; and our region is already feeling the impacts.”

Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor is the managing editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact him at ftaylor@carolinapublicpress.org.

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