Commentary before the North Carolina Utilities Commission

Thank you commissioners for allowing me to speak today.

In that great movie classic Field of Dreams, the character played by Kevin Costner builds a ballpark in his corn field seeing visions and hearing whispers from long dead stars of the game. He overbuilds, over the fierce objections of family and friends. But it all still worked out, because his heroes of the past came back for one last game.

I’m pretty sure Duke Energy’s overbuilding won’t work out the way Kevin Costner’s ballfield did. But let’s examine the analogy for a minute. What whispers does Duke hear? What whispers do others hear?

I believe Duke must be hearing whispers that sound like:

 

The current low price of gas will hold. Electricity demand will continue to grow. Our guaranteed profit financial model will stay in place. Natural gas is better than coal for the environment. Renewable energy past cost decreases won’t be repeated. Climate change is all natural variation so the anti-fossil-fuel movement will fade away.

 

Commissioners, is that what you hear? That is certainly not what I hear.

Perhaps, commissioners, you hear whispers that are closer to those that I hear.

Perhaps you hear whispers that sound like:

 

The renewable energy cost declines we have experienced over the last decade will continue. The international community, as agreed to in Paris, will insist that the fossil fuel age must be over by mid-century. Natural gas is as bad for the environment as coal. Climate change is a real, human caused threat that will become a huge issue for people as severe storms, droughts, weird weather, and sea level rise become more prevalent. Conservatives will come to see that environmental stewardship and market based clean energy solutions are core principles. There will be bi-partisan support for a quick transition to renewable energy. There will be greater and greater demand to put a price on carbon. The public will be energized to move us away from fossil fuels and there will be greater and greater effort from individuals, businesses, local government, and faith communities to become more energy efficient, slowing the growth in electricity demand even more.

 

So before you make a decision in this case I challenge you to imagine the future. Close your eyes and visualize what it will be like 20 or 30 years from now. Which of these visions are most likely, the vision of the past returning or the vision of humanity being challenged to use all its productivity and innovative capacity to rid itself of fossil fuels?

And I can tell you that if we are on the cusp of a major transition away from fossil fuels, then the future will not look kindly on overbuilding on this plant. Here’s what I think will happen in that case:

Carbon emissions will be priced to the extent that it will not be economic to run this plant. The short run marginal cost of running the plant will exceed the long run cost of wind and solar with storage. The plant will be effectively obsolete before it is many years into its expected useful life. It will become the energy equivalent of no stars from the past visiting the field of dreams.

So building anything more than the minimum required is just too risky. So if you think the status quo will hold, then adopt staff’s recommendations., but if you see a vision of monumental change, as I do, then please go further. Do what you can to keep Duke from overbuilding.

As staff recommends, please approve ending the use of coal at Lake Julian.

As staff recommends, please deny Duke’s request to approve the contingent CT.

As staff recommends, insist that Duke report annually on progress to reduce peak load growth and to site solar capacity.

But go further than staff and insist that Duke work with customers to develop a WNC-specific addendum to its biennial IRP. This IRP should include the preferred strategy to meet future WNC needs without the contingent CT, including peak load reductions, solar, and storage, along with wind and hydro power. And go further than staff and deny Duke’ request for 2 280 MW units. Tell them that you will only approve natural gas units that are no larger than the coal units they will replace.

Commissioners, please tell Duke to look to a future where fossil fuels will be phased out by mid-century, and ask them to plan accordingly.

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