NC WARN targets coal-burning power plants

After decades of fighting to abolish the state’s nuclear plants, Durham activist group NC WARN has turned its attention to eliminating coal-burning power plants from North Carolina’s landscape.

The 26-year-old advocacy organization outlined its coal-free energy vision Friday in a long-range planning review before the N.C. Utilities Commission, the state agency that approves utility rates and new power plant construction.

“This can be done with strengthened energy-efficiency measures, a more rapid development of renewable energy, and the fostering of distributed generation, backed up by batteries and pumped storage,” NC WARN said in its filing.

The group made a similar claim in last year’s proceeding – that alternative energy resources can replace all new power plant construction with a phase-out of existing coal plants. The state’s electric utilities dismissed the proposal as a pipe dream.

Still, some of NC WARN’s projections are becoming reality. Less than a decade ago, coal accounted for more than half the state’s electricity production; today it accounts for just 22 percent of electricity generated by Raleigh-based Duke Energy Progress and 33 percent generated by Charlotte-based Duke Energy Carolinas.

In its 15-year projection, Duke said energy-efficiency programs are playing an increasing role and are expected to reduce customer energy demand growth from 1.9 percent annually to 1.5 percent. Duke also noted that efficiency and solar and other renewables will meet about one-third of the projected growth in customer demand.

NC WARN claims that power companies inflate their future demand projections to justify building costly power plants and paying for those plants with rate increases that feed the financial appetite of Wall Street investors.

Staff writer John Murawski