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North Carolina Utilities Commission Should Ensure Public Participation on Proposed New Methane Gas Plants

Climate Justice Public Protections Air Climate Energy Environmental Justice North Carolina Public Participation

As North Carolinians continue to grapple with rolling blackouts and rising energy bills, yet another pending environmental catastrophe is developing in our backyards. Duke Energy, our state’s monopoly utility provider, has submitted filings for two new methane gas power plants — one at the current Roxboro coal plant in Person County and another at the Marshall plant on Lake Norman.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas. Widespread application of natural gas releases nitrogen oxides and methane gas, which are linked to asthma, lung disease, and other problems for human health and the environment, such as poor air quality and climate change. State law requires these plants to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), which authorizes a utility to construct a new facility within “the public interest.”

However, as of February 7, the North Carolina Utilities Commission (Commission) has not held public hearings on these new plants, nor is it compelled by law to do this specifically, disregarding outright the possibility of genuine community engagement in the face of these environmentally damaging plants. “Public interest,” then, is clearly up for debate.

These new gas plants are baked into Duke Energy’s proposed “carbon plan.” House Bill 951 required the Commission to devise a plan by the end of 2022 that would cut carbon emissions by 70 percent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The Commission delegated Carbon Plan development to Duke Energy, which has proposed a plan that fails to meet those legal requirements, unnecessarily postpones changes that could benefit the state’s environment right away, and doesn’t even provide the lowest possible cost to consumers.

Ironically, a Duke Energy-commissioned study revealed that by tripling solar and onshore wind capacity, the state could meet its carbon goals quicker, more cheaply, and with no additional methane gas power plants. Even with this knowledge, on January 31, Duke Energy filed for more gas power plants, slowing carbon reduction goals and putting overburdened and under-resourced communities, in particular, at risk.

Duke Energy also estimates its new gas power plants and nuclear reactors will increase bills by 39 percent for Duke Energy Progress customers and by 73 percent for Duke Energy Carolinas customers. I’m a Duke Energy Progress customer, so for me, that means a significant electric bill increase — from $170 per month on average to nearly $240 every month.

A group of signatories from the People Power North Carolina coalition recently drafted a letter asking the Commission to hold public hearings on these proposed power plants. Public participation opportunities around energy development are sorely needed in the state, especially because Duke Energy has a long track record of ignoring community voices. This is particularly concerning given the rural makeup of Person and Catawba Counties, the proposed sites for the two new plants.

Rural communities already spend more of their income on energy costs than non-rural communities — a cost known as an energy burden. Building these new gas plants will cost these communities even more, both economically and environmentally.

North Carolina should look to other states for guidance on embedding equity into the CPCN process. Other states, for example, have legal requirements for public hearings. In Maryland, one public hearing is required at a location proximate to the proposed site. Notice for the hearing must be published in the local newspaper and posted on social media sites each week for four weeks leading up to the hearing, as well as on the main public service commission website.

The Commission should revise the North Carolina CPCN hearing process to ensure that:

  1. Public hearings are held to describe the purpose of the facilities;
  2. At least one of the hearings be in the impacted community and another in the closest highly populated city in the state;
  3. At least one virtual hearing also be available;
  4. The time period and method for public comments be clearly stated and publicized

Our rural residents’ health and safety depend on it.

Climate Justice Public Protections Air Climate Energy Environmental Justice North Carolina Public Participation

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