Utlities Commission approves only one new coal plant at Cliffside

The NC Utilities Commission (NCUC) yesterday handed down its decision on Duke's request to build two new 800MW coal-fired power plants at their Cliffside site. The NCUC has granted Duke permission to build one of the two plants, saying they had not met the burden of proof necessary to obtain permission to build both plants, while requiring the older units at Cliffside be shut down when the new unit is operational and that Duke spend 1% of its annual revenue from electricity sales on energy efficience.

What this means for NC and our energy future:

1. The Cliffside plant may not be built. NCWARN, a local environmental watch-dog, issued a press release saying the NCUC's ruling makes it too costly for Duke to proceed.

2. Now that NCUC has ruled on the Cliffside project, the General Assembly has more clarity on which to judge the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) bill that is before them (H77 and S3).

3. Subsequently, how much our energy rates increase are impacted as Duke now attempts to refigure costs of new construction. If they go forward with the project and it does indeed cost in range with what is projected, going forward with a new coal plant would likely result in a greater rate increase than moving forward with a 10% REPS and possibly even a 20% REPS (Electric rates will rise about 5.9 cents/kilowatt hour by 2020. If passed, the 10% REPS would increase rates about 6.3 cents/kilowatt hour.)

While it would have been nice for the NCUC to stick it to Duke and put the onus on the General Assembly to get serious about our energy future, I'll take the compromise as a victory. It's not often - if ever - that the NCUC does not grant the utilities their way. Further, if NCWARN is correct and Duke backs down altogether from new construction, I'll get what I want anyway: more incentive for our lawmakers to do what is right.

On a side note, the REPS bill looks like it has a strong chance in the Legislature. Advocacy groups are pushing for a 20% bill, but it looks like what we are going to get is 10% (keep your fingers crossed). Either way, it will once again showcase NC as the leader in the Southeast (and dragging behind most of the rest of the country). No southeastern state has an REPS. Now it all comes down to our elected Democrats acting like Democrats and doing what is right for the state. With the NCUC's ruling, the chances for dissent have been minimized.