Point of View

Duke Energy’s dinosaur ways

February 8, 2013 

Duke Energy recently made two decisions that provided a tiny glimmer of hope to North Carolinians who have been dismayed by our utility’s reliance on polluting energy sources.

Duke announced the early closure of two coal-burning power plants in North Carolina, and it finally deserted its efforts to resurrect a long-embattled nuclear plant in Florida.

The coal plants poisoned communities and contributed to global climate change, and the nuclear plant was broken beyond repair. Perhaps Duke was beginning to recognize that antique energy sources like coal and nuclear power are not viable in the 21st century when more modern options exist.

Unfortunately, Duke’s 20-year energy plan for the Carolinas, the subject of a Utilities Commission hearing in Raleigh on Monday night, extinguishes the hope that Duke’s good news could start a trend.

Duke’s plan forecasts that in 2032, 72 percent of its energy will come from coal, nuclear and gas-fired power plants. Only 2.25 percent will come from wind and solar power.

By comparison, a full 26 percent of Germany’s electricity came from renewable sources in the first half of 2012. New Jersey – not exactly known for its sunny weather – installed nearly six times more solar energy than North Carolina did in 2011. And last year, the No. 1 new source of electricity added to the United States electric grid wasn’t coal, or nuclear, or gas; it was wind power.

Those numbers are already being eclipsed as clean energy continues its meteoric rise, but Duke, its head fixed firmly in the sand, insists that a paltry 2 percent of its electricity will be clean in 2032.

With abundant sunshine and on- and offshore wind, North Carolina can enjoy similar success, and private companies want the state to join the renewable energy party: More than 500 companies are already involved in North Carolina’s nascent solar industry. Apple is building massive solar arrays to power its data center with renewable energy.

But Apple’s path won’t work for North Carolina businesses who don’t have the cash to finance their own power plants. That’s Duke’s job, and because Duke holds an electricity monopoly in North Carolina, companies have no choice to buy wind or solar power elsewhere.

For clean energy to flourish in North Carolina under our current laws, Duke must provide it.

Duke isn’t sticking with older forms of polluting energy to save you money. According to a recent analysis from Greenpeace, Duke Energy customers in the Carolinas could save up to $108 billion – 57 percent of their total bill – over the next 20 years if Duke chose solar and wind energy and energy efficiency.

No, Duke is sticking to its plan because it has set up a system where older, polluting energy has made its executives rich. Duke figured out how to make a lot of money operating coal, gas and nuclear power plants, but the rapidly brightening economics of wind and solar power make it clear that Duke could be just as profitable – to all of our benefits – if it invests in renewable energy instead.

Thankfully, people are starting to recognize the folly in Duke’s plan. A wave of opposition from citizen groups ranging from environmental watchdogs to the AARP is cresting to fight Duke’s rate hikes for dirty energy.

And, over Duke’s objection, the Utilities Commission decided to add a second hearing in Charlotte to solicit feedback from ratepayers about Duke’s energy plans. Now the Utilities Commission should add its voice to the chorus of people who recognize that Duke’s plan is the wrong direction for North Carolina. It should reject the company’s plan and call on it to step into the future by embracing the renewable energy that the state wants and needs.

Becky Ceartas is the organizer

for Greenpeace’s Quit Coal campaign in Raleigh.

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