The Environmental Working Group is calling out Duke Energy — the largest investor-owned utility in the US — for its outrageous claim that introducing more solar power into the state will cause a surge in nitrogen oxide and carbon emissions. The reason? You’d best be sitting down for this.
Solar is intermittent, see? The sun shines during the day but not at night. (Duh) And so Duke Energy is forced to ramp its gas-powered generating facilities up and down in response. Emission controls on those facilities are largely disabled during the ramping periods and so lots of nasty stuff comes pouring out of the smokestacks and that’s why emissions in the skies over the Tar Heel state will increase. It would be better if the gas-fired facilities were able to operate at full power all day every day, the way God intended.
In a press release, the EWG says Duke Energy has engaged in a corporate scheme to undermine renewables in favor of fossil fuels and nuclear power by “abandoning offshore wind in favor of expanding natural gas, making paltry investments in battery storage for renewables, and relentlessly implementing tactics to punish customers for going solar or investing in energy efficiency.
“I hope everyone who reads Duke’s claims will try to picture a herd of highly paid executives clustered around a conference table fretting themselves sick about the pollution being caused by solar panels and windmills,” says Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group. “Duke’s outrageous claim that renewable energy somehow increases air pollution and worsens the climate crisis is on its face ridiculous.
Cook’s organization labels Duke Energy “Public Enemy #1” because of its persistent embrace of century old technology as it seeks to protect against stranded assets. He says “Duke is bent on keeping its grip on dangerous and dirty sources of fuel while fighting state initiatives to promote solar and wind, because big, centralized, polluting power plants are central to the company’s business model.
“This ludicrous attempt to blame air pollution on solar energy is another example of Duke’s history of doing nearly anything to keep its captive customers reliant on fossil fuels, ensuring excessive profits and pollution, while forward-thinking utilities are moving toward cleaner, safer and cheaper renewable sources.”
He notes that Duke’s claim doesn’t mention that emissions reductions from solar and wind would be much greater if the natural gas plants were shut down for good, eliminating the need for increased cycling.
North Carolina Releases New Energy Standard
While Duke Energy is bitching and moaning, the state of North Carolina is pursuing a path to zero emissions by 2050 (which is far too late but at least it’s something.) Its Department of Environmental Quality released a draft of a Clean Energy Plan last week that calls for the state to reduce power sector greenhouse gas emissions between 60% and 70% by 2030, relative to 2005 levels, and “work towards zero emissions by 2050,” according to a report by Utility Dive.
The state currently gets about 90% of its electricity from coal, gas, and nuclear facilities but policies favoring renewable energy have helped make it the second largest generator of solar power in the US. The new plan, which is due on the governor’s desk by October 1, focuses not only on more renewables but also on ways to reduce peaks in energy demand and the addition of more battery storage resources.
It includes seven “priority recommendations,” including establishing a comprehensive utility system planning process that “connects resource, transmission, and distribution planning,” while facilitating growth of distributed energy resources.
Clearly, the plan is at odds with Duke Energy’s interests, although the company has issued a typically mealymouthed statement that suggests it approves of the plan on the one hand while it seeks to undermine it on the other.
We are left with an image of Duke Energy as a reactive 4-year-old child being forced to take a much needed bath. There is a climate emergency taking place. People are dying from breathing the detritus that gets into the air after fossil fuels — any fossil fuels — are burned. The time to act is now, not 50 years from now.
Kudos to the state of North Carolina for at least considering appropriate responses to the emissions problem. Now if only some of those Duke Energy investors would attend shareholder meetings to demand the company stop digging in its heels and become a leader in clean energy instead of a follower. There is much work to be done and it must be done quickly. There is no time to look longingly to the past. It’s time to embrace the future. And stop whining about it!
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