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Power line foes challenge Duke's energy demand forecast

Based on research that challenges Duke Energy's electric usage projections, an Edneyville group issued a 12-page report on Thursday asserting that the utility's proposed foothills transmission line is unnecessary.

"The projected growth is speculative at best, and excessive capacity and huge transmission lines to bring in more power just aren’t needed for power consumption at current levels, which are declining, not increasing," the paper concludes. "Even if the larger capacity was needed for future growth, the transmission lines would not be.
Theoretical reliability in the event of episodes of generation failure which we are not experiencing, seems a small benefit to justify the economic damage to our county. In any case this line would not improve local reliability problems that are caused by problems with local distribution lines rather than by regional transmission problems."

Tom Williams, a senior spokesman for Duke, said while the Edneyville report "makes some interesting observations," it's not relevant to what Duke must provide by law. Peak demand shot up by 29 percent in 2014 over 2013 — to 1,183 megawatts — during a cold snap. A nearly identical spike happened last February when a polar vortex caused a run of days with a lows below zero degrees.

"We have to plan for our ability to serve customers based on peak demand not on the overall use," he said. "We have to plan not based on this year or next year but for 2019. We're building now a plant that will serve the region into the future. They're 30-year assets. We've experienced two consecutives winters with peak power demand that was 30 percent higher than 2013."

The Edneyville group, made up of farm families, residents and business owners who opposed a power line path that would cross the eastern Henderson County apple country, previously produced a report that challenged Duke's statements that burying the 230-kilovolt line is impractical for engineering, maintenance and cost reasons.

The Edneyville power line foes said their research undercuts Duke's forecast that power demand in Western North Carolina will grow by 15 percent in the next decade. On the contrary, Edneyville group said, some of Duke's own reports and an analysis at past growth suggest that projection is grossly inflated.

"Duke’s CEO and CFO paint a different picture in discussions earlier this year of Duke’s 2014 earnings," they said. "In February of this year the Charlotte Business Journal, citing Duke’s 2014 earnings, reports that Duke CEO Lynn Good says overall use of power for Duke's regulated utilities in six states grew 0.6 percent. Additionally CFO Steve Young says the number of customers is growing more than 1 percent a year, with particularly strong growth in the Carolinas and Florida."


The report quoted the CFO saying, “In 2015 we are anticipating retail customer load growth between 0.5 percent and 1 percent.”

The power line opponents said federal statistics on total energy show a decrease in electricity consumption from 2010 to 2013. "If we take Duke Progress’s 5.27% decrease and calculate out to a full decade we see that rather than the 15% increase per decade that Duke is predicting, the most current data shows a DECREASE OF ABOUT 16.5% per decade," they said. "Surely there will be some ups and downs in that decade, but to predict a 15% growth rate when the calculation using the last 3 years for which the federal government has final data is a 16.5% DECREASE, that is just unbelievably misleading."

The report also questioned whether the region would ever need supplemental power from Duke Energy's Oconee nuclear plant in the South Carolina Upstate and whether the growth in alternative energy sources by green-oriented industries like Sierra Nevada would over time reduce the demand for conventional power.

"In particular, the question is why can’t the new gas power plant meet the predicted growth in demand (assuming there is any.)," it asked. "Why the need to import even more energy from South Carolina, or as is currently contemplated by DEP (Duke Energy-Progress), from DEP East?"

They noted that Robert Sipes, Duke Energy's WNC Manager, has said, “Peak energy demand for the region last year topped out at 1,183 megawatts requiring the activation of voluntary load control programs, smart grid-enabled voltage reductions and an overall request for voluntary conservation to manage through the peak.”

But with the new gas-fueled plant boosting capacity from 376 megawatts to 650 megawatts plus imported power from sources currently available, the Edneyville report said, Duke would have the ability to deliver 1,374 megawatts. "Nearly 200 megawatts (15%) to spare!"

"This plan needs to go back to the drawing board," the report concludes. "Power generation for our region’s basic electricity needs should be sized to meet more realistic projections. The need for regional peak and emergency/maintenance needs should be completely re-evaluated with an emphasis on using renewable sources, existing lines, and regional generation sources."

The Edneyville group, Williams said, is entitled to formally intervene in the Duke's application for permits before the Utilities Commission.

"They'd have to be able to defend their numbers before the Utilities Commission and we would be able to cross examine them," he said.

The overall energy growth is less a factor for capacity determination than peak load, he added. "We have to keep that power on and meet demand of the coldest hour of the coldest day," he said.