N.C. Regulators OK 1 of 2 Generator Sought at Duke Plant

N.C. Regulators OK 1 of 2 Generator Sought at Duke Plant

Duke Energy Corp. may build only one 800-megawatt coal-fired generator at its aging facility in western North Carolina, not the two the utility has sought for nearly two years, the state Utilities Commission ruled Wednesday.

The Charlotte-based company said it needed the generators to meet increasing consumer demand.

Environmentalists argued Duke had failed to consider cleaner power-generating options and that the new generators would increase pollution from the Cliffside Steam Station, about 60 miles west of Charlotte.

In addition, commissioners ruled that the single unit could be built only if Duke agrees to retire the four existing units when the new generator comes on line. Duke would also be required to invest 1 percent of its annual retail revenues from electricity sales in energy efficiency programs.

Opponents claimed a partial victory Wednesday, but vowed to continue fighting.

“The glass is certainly half-full,” said Michael Shore of the North Carolina office of Environmental Defense.

Duke Energy sought a permit for two 800-megawatt generators at Cliffside in May 2005, saying they would be the most reliable, acceptable way of meeting increasing customer demand in the Carolinas.

Opponents of the new generators wanted Duke to add capacity through conservation or renewable fuels such as solar or wind.

Critics were also angered this fall when the company restated the project’s cost as $3 billion, 50 percent more than originally estimated.

One commissioner, Robert V. Owen Jr., dissented from the ruling, saying the application should have been denied in its entirety.

Duke was reviewing the commission ruling on Wednesday.

“There’s not a whole lot we can say in terms of the next steps,” said spokeswoman Paige Sheehan. “It’s a significant step in our plan for new generation. Clearly (the commission) recognized there is growing demand.”

Opponents say they will now shift their attention to the state Division of Air Quality, which issues air quality permits. State permits must then be approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Duke Energy has 2.2 million customers in the Carolinas. AP

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