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NC regulators issue CPCN for Duke's Asheville gas plant, dismissing size concerns

TheNorth Carolina Utilities Commission on March 28 formally issued its certificateof public convenience and necessity, or CPCN, for 's proposedAsheville Combined Cyclegas plant in Buncombe County.

Inits order, the commission rejected calls for the utility to build smallergas units or rely on existing hydro or combustion turbine units it operates tomeet the electricity and reliability needs in the rapidly growing region.

DukeEnergy Progress will build two 280-MW combined-cycle natural gas-fired unitswith fuel oil backup and upgraderelated transmission facilities as part of the $1 billion WesternCarolinas Modernization Project. The Sierra Club and another intervenorargued that Duke Energy Progress could meet the region's needs with a smallerproject, such as two 185 MW CC units online in 2020 and a contingent 100 MW CTunit available in 2024.

"Thecomments filed by many of the intervenors appear to demonstrate a lack offundamental understanding as to the difference between capacity and energy, afundamental lack of understanding as to how load forecasts are prepared andapproved by this Commission, as well as a fundamental lack of understanding ofhow electric systems are planned and maintained for a reliable and least costsystem," the NCUC wrote in its order. "As detailed in the CPCNapplication, the basis for need is demonstrated in the 2015 DEP IRP. Aspecific, unique situation exists regarding the DEP-Western Region, which is anenergy island."

Thecommission added that hydropower and wind power are not available options forDEP since those resources, if feasible, would have been included in the utility'sIRP.

Regulatorsapproved the projectFeb. 29 as part of an expeditedprocess designed to meet the region's energy needs and ramp up theretirement of theutility's 379-MW Ashevillecoal plant.

Thecommission's order requires the company to retire the coal units no later thanthe operation date of the new combined-cycle units. DEP told regulators it willpermanently cease operation of the coal units no later than Jan. 31, 2020.

Thecommission has, for now, denied Duke Energy Progress' plans to build a third,186-MW simple-cycle combustion turbine unit at the site. Duke Energy Progresshas said it will cancel or delay plans to file for a CPCN for the combustionturbine unit if efforts to reduce peak load growth are successful.

DukeEnergy Progress also has said it will seek approvals for at least 15 MW of newsolar generation to serve the region. It also plans to seek approval to developa minimum of 5 MW of utility-scale electricity storage over the next sevenyears.

Someintervenors, however, suggested that Duke should be required to build moresolar capacity and rely more on energy efficiency and demand-side management tooffset energy needs.

"DEPindicated that the size of the solar facility at the Asheville plant cannot beknown until the Asheville coal units are demolished and the 1964 ash basin isexcavated," the commission noted in its order. "DEP explained that ittakes approximately 100 acres for a 15 MW utility-scale solar facility. DEPcommitted that if the Asheville site configuration does not allow theconstruction of 15 MW or more of solar generation, it will supplement theon-site solar facility with a combination of rooftop, community, or otherutility-scale solar facilities at other locations in the Asheville area."