Construction will start in mid-2018 on an addition to a Duke Energy power plant in Lincoln County despite concerns among some state officials about whether it will be needed.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission this month gave Duke permission to build the 402-megawatt natural gas-fired plant at the Lincoln Combustion Turbine Station on Old Plank Road in Stanley. Duke will begin operating it in 2024, generating electricity at times of peak demand such as cold winter mornings.
The commission is supposed to make sure that utilities don’t build unneeded power plants, for which customers ultimately pay. In the Lincoln case, the Public Staff, an independent agency that advocates for consumers, questioned the seven-year lapse between the project’s approval in 2017 and commercial operation in 2024.
Expected customer demand for electricity could drop by 2024, as it has in recent years, the Public Staff and environmental groups told the commission. Technology costs could change. Solar energy and advances in battery technology could make the new plant unnecessary.
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The Public Staff and environmental critics noted that the Utilities Commission in 2016 denied a similar project in Asheville that was scheduled to begin operating in 2023. In that case, Duke sought the long lag time between approval and construction to test a community-based initiative to reduce peak demand for electricity and make the new plant moot.
The commission, in approving the Lincoln County plant, agreed that it deserves “an extra measure of scrutiny.” But it found other differences with the Asheville case.
Siemens Energy, which employs about 1,700 people in Charlotte, will build the advanced combustion turbine units in Lincoln County and begin generating electricity in 2020. Duke will get free energy from the plant during four years of commissioning and testing the units before Siemens hands them over to Duke in December 2024.
The commission ruled that Duke can’t try to pass the plant’s cost – which was not disclosed in public filings – to customers before that time.