Global warming restrictions and even technology that takes greenhouse gases out of burned coal are probably around the corner, but right now Duke Energy needs $2 billion from ratepayers to build two coal-fired power plants, company CEO John Rogers said Tuesday.
Rogers made a pitch for regulatory approval of the plants to the North Carolina Utilities Commission. The commission must now judge whether the costs to customers would be justified.
Duke Energy has not built a big, around-the-clock coal-fired power plant since 1975, and it’s been 20 years since it added a nuclear plant.
Rogers said the company needs the 1,600 megawatts of extra power — enough to power about 1.4 million North Carolina homes — at the utility’s Cliffside site on the Cleveland-Rutherford county line primarily to keep up with growth. Duke Energy said each year it adds about 50,000 homes, stores and industries to its customer base. That would mean about 250,000 additional customers by 2011, the year the first of the two proposed plants is scheduled for completion.
“The consequences of the failure to have power when it’s needed is severe,” Rogers said. “It undermines our quality of life.”
During questioning by environmental advocates, Rogers said the company recognizes that tighter regulations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide emitted by burned coal is just a few years away.
The two proposed coal-burning plants at Cliffside, along with company efforts to promote energy efficiency, could allow it to close four 1940s-era coal-burning plants as the new ones come on line, company officials said. The plants together generate about 200 megawatts of power but are used less than half the time because they’re so inefficient.
Environmentalists noted that replacing the older units is not part of Duke Energy’s written proposal to the utilities commission. Rogers agreed.
“There’s no commitment in here. The important point is it creates the option” to close the oldest power plants once they’re not needed, he said.
Environmental critics said Duke Energy could save money and guard against additional air pollution if the company aggressively promoted energy efficiency. Rogers said Duke Energy is working on ways it to better promote conservation.
Studies have found that adopting economical but untapped energy efficiency could cut in half the additional electricity needed over the next two decades, according to an action plan released in July by a group of industry leaders co-chaired by Rogers.
“I believe it plays an important role, but not to the exclusion of everything else,” Rogers said of energy efficiency.
An analysis by the utility commission’s Public Staff, which represents consumers, found that conservation measures alone wouldn’t offset or delay the projected need for electricity in five years.