Duke Energy Corp., the nation’s largest electric utility, says it can cut greenhouse gas emissions more than 70% in the next 15 years in North and South Carolina -- but doing so could cost customers up to $58 a month.
The company has drafted six roadmaps for cleaning up its energy mix. One would close Duke’s remaining coal-burning plants as quickly as possible, replacing them with new natural gas plants, along with wind and solar backed by batteries.
Another would eschew new gas plants for batteries, offshore wind farms and small nuclear reactors. All would have a cost to consumers, adding between $21 and $58 to monthly electricity bills in 2035.
Duke, which supplies electricity in six states, isn’t championing any particular plan, according to Cari Boyce, the company’s senior vice president of enterprise strategy and planning. Instead, the proposals are meant to illustrate the various ways the company can achieve its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, while highlighting the trade-offs.
“We wanted to have a real clear-eyed view of what the implications are,” Boyce said.
How the company fares in its plan to deeply slash emissions will help inform other utilities charting their own transitions to cleaner energy amid mounting concerns about climate change. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has set a 15-year timetable for eliminating emissions from the electric system, while states from New York to California have established their own mandates to hasten the shift from fossil fuels to renewables.
All of the scenarios drafted by Duke and presented to state regulators in North and South Carolina Tuesday would put the company on a path to net-zero emissions, although some would go further than others.
They would all require massive infrastructure investments in new power plants and transmission lines. The least expensive option would call for nearly $80 billion in revenue through 2050, while the most expensive would require $108 billion.
The cheapest option – adding new gas plants, solar and batteries to the grid – would cut emissions 53% below 2005 levels by 2035 and boost monthly bills by $21 for residential customers of Duke Energy Progress, one of the company’s two utilities in the region. The most expensive, blocking all new gas plants, would reduce emissions 73% and add $58 per month.
For customers of Duke Energy Carolinas, bills would rise $23 per month in the lowest-cost scenario, and $45 in the highest.
While the scenarios are intended to help shape future conversations, they also reflect debates well underway. North Carolina regulators, for example, asked the company to study retiring all remaining coal plans as fast as possible, regardless of cost, Boyce said. A clean energy plan drafted last year by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality calls for a 70% cut in emissions from the energy sector by 2030, the focus of two of Duke’s scenarios.
Other parties wanted to see the costs of meeting future energy needs without new gas plants. Although that possibility is included in the filing, it is the most expensive of the six scenarios presented, and all of the others include building at least 6 gigawatts of new gas-burning plants.
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