The state Utilities Commission is thought to be close to a decision on Duke Energy Co.’s request to build two new coal-fired power plants west of Charlotte. But a proposal by a growing number of legislators that the decision be delayed makes sense.
State Reps. Jennifer Weiss of Cary and Paul Luebke of Durham, among others, want the General Assembly to consider setting a requirement for energy produced by alternative modes — solar, wind and the like — before the commission decides on the Duke project. That’s a logical sequence, because such a requirement could well bear on the need for the new plants at Duke’s
Progressive-minded lawmakers have pressed for North Carolina to join several
states that set a minimum amount of electricity to be generated from alternative energy sources. The figure usually mentioned for North Carolina is 10
percent, and a recent study said that is a feasible goal. Power generated from alternatives may cost more in general, but authors of the study say electricity customers still would come out ahead as far as the size of their monthly power bills.
It’s possible that with a floor in place for alternative generation, the Duke project could be scaled back or deferred. It’s true that the new coal plants would be cleaner-burning than the four old plants they would replace.
But they still would emit an estimated 11.5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of nearly a million cars. Scientists link carbon
dioxide to the global warming threat.
James Rogers, president of Duke Energy, argued in these pages last week that
the new plants would be equipped to capture carbon dioxide, once the
technology is perfected. That’s worth cheering. But a report in yesterday’s New York
Times raises serious doubts about when, or whether, such technology will be achieved.
And other pollutants from coal-fired plants harm human health.
Legislators, who on the public’s behalf pay the burgeoning health-care bills for many North Carolinians and also are stewards of
the state’s environment, clearly have a proper role in the debate over power
generation. The Utilities Commission has good reason to take the input it’s getting from
Jones Street as another sign of where the public interest lies.