WASHINGTON – Duke Energy says it will achieve “net zero” carbon pollution by 2050. But its new resource plan for the Carolinas almost certainly means it will continue to rely on fossil fuels and nuclear reactors as its dominant sources of energy.
On Tuesday, Duke – the largest investor-owned U.S. electric utility, with 7.7 million customers in six states – filed its 2020 Integrated Resource Plan, or IRP, with regulators in North and South Carolina. If in the wake of its recent cancellation of the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Duke-watchers expected a turn away from natural gas, they were wrong.
The plan floated six different scenarios to reach “net zero” carbon, and all but one relies heavily on fracked natural gas. It confirmed that Duke will continue to give short shrift to wind power and is betting on the uncertain development of a new generation of small nuclear reactors.
“If investors and regulators were hoping Duke would put forth a serious plan to reduce emissions and combat climate, this IRP wasn’t for them,” said Grant Smith, EWG’s senior energy policy advisor. “Even the most ambitious scenario would only modestly invest in offshore wind, despite the enormous potential in the Carolinas, make paltry advances in solar, spend billions on more nuclear reactors and jack up customers’ bills by nearly $60 a month.”
Only one scenario would reject new gas generation while marginally expanding solar power and spending big on small, “modular” nuclear reactors. This path would cut greenhouse gas emissions by almost three-fourths but would be the most expensive and trigger a $58 increase in customers’ bills.
Those projected costs make it unlikely that regulators would approve, suggesting Duke included it as a sop – and a rebuff – to investors and advocates who want the utility to speed up its transition from fossil fuels.
On last month’s earnings call, Duke said it will have a clearer picture of its path to “net zero” carbon early next year. But CEO Lynn J. Good also said then that offshore wind wasn’t viable for at least a decade. The new plan confirms that view and sees only marginal value in onshore wind.
The IRP reaffirms Duke’s plans to ask federal regulators to extend the operating licenses for its 11 nuclear reactors, increasing the risk of accidents. As for its expectations for new modular reactors, there is no working example in the U.S. to indicate the actual costs of building and operating such units.
Earlier this week, EWG released a report documenting the billions of dollars Duke has squandered on failed and botched natural gas and nuclear plants across its vast service area.
Duke admits gas and nuclear plants are threatened by the climate crisis and the rapid growth and plummeting price of renewable energy. But it continues to rationalize buildout of these risky investments, because as a government-protected monopoly it can pass the costs of its failures on to its customers and drive up its stock prices.
“From Duke’s recent climate report and this IRP, you can predict that Duke’s energy mix in 2035 will consist mainly of nuclear power and natural gas – along with more billions of blown ratepayer dollars on more failed projects,” said Smith. “It’s a shell game – talking a good game on renewables and carbon cuts to distract from its plans for business as usual.”
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