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Duke Energy Ups Bond Demand From Nonprofits Challenging Fracked Gas Plant to $240 Million

Monday, July 11, 2016 By Sue Sturgis, Facing South | Report
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Back in May, Duke Energy asked the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) to require a $50 million bond from two environmental nonprofits for them to continue to challenge the company's plans to build a $1 billion fracked gas plant on the site of a shuttered coal plant near Asheville.

The NCUC instead ordered the nonprofits -- NC WARN and The Climate Times -- to show they have assets to post a $10 million bond, what's known as an "undertaking." The groups have said that would be impossible. The NCUC issued a permit for the project back in March.

But now Duke Energy is asking for a $240 million bond, arguing that the groups' appeal of the fast-tracked project would delay construction. The company and NCUC are citing a never-before-used provision of a 1963 state law to justify the bond demand.

The nonprofits would have to pay the bond only if they lose their case against the plant in court. NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren told The News & Observer that he would "find it hard to believe we'd gamble money in that saloon."

In an op-ed published last week in that same paper, Richard M. Clerkin, executive director of the Institute for Nonprofits at N.C. State University, raised concerns about the bond demand's implications for democracy.

"Regardless of where we as individual residents of North Carolina stand on the environmental and business interests at stake in this matter," he wrote, "we ought to be collectively concerned about nonprofits needing to 'pay to play' when they raise their voices about public policies."

NC WARN and The Climate Times argue that the plant is not needed, that the future supply and price of gas are uncertain, and that the plant would worsen the climate crisis by increasing emissions of methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas.

Once heavily reliant on coal, Duke Energy is increasingly shifting its power generation to fracked gas. It's planning to construct up to 15 large gas-fired power plants in the Carolinas and wants to build a large pipeline into North Carolina from the shale gas fields to the north. It's also planning to purchase Piedmont Natural Gas for $4.9 billion, with an NCUC hearing on the merger set for July 18.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Sue Sturgis

Sue is editorial director at the Institute for Southern Studies, which she joined in November 2005 as director of the Institute's Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch, a project to document and investigate the post-Katrina recovery. A former staff writer for the Raleigh News & Observer and Independent Weekly (Durham, North Carolina), Sue directs and regularly contributes to the Institute's online magazine, Facing South, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Sue is the author or coauthor of five Institute reports, including "Faith in the Gulf" (August/September 2008), "Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement" (January 2008) and "Blueprint for Gulf Renewal" (August/September 2007). Sue holds a master's degree in journalism from New York University.

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Duke Energy Ups Bond Demand From Nonprofits Challenging Fracked Gas Plant to $240 Million

Monday, July 11, 2016 By Sue Sturgis, Facing South | Report
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

Back in May, Duke Energy asked the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) to require a $50 million bond from two environmental nonprofits for them to continue to challenge the company's plans to build a $1 billion fracked gas plant on the site of a shuttered coal plant near Asheville.

The NCUC instead ordered the nonprofits -- NC WARN and The Climate Times -- to show they have assets to post a $10 million bond, what's known as an "undertaking." The groups have said that would be impossible. The NCUC issued a permit for the project back in March.

But now Duke Energy is asking for a $240 million bond, arguing that the groups' appeal of the fast-tracked project would delay construction. The company and NCUC are citing a never-before-used provision of a 1963 state law to justify the bond demand.

The nonprofits would have to pay the bond only if they lose their case against the plant in court. NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren told The News & Observer that he would "find it hard to believe we'd gamble money in that saloon."

In an op-ed published last week in that same paper, Richard M. Clerkin, executive director of the Institute for Nonprofits at N.C. State University, raised concerns about the bond demand's implications for democracy.

"Regardless of where we as individual residents of North Carolina stand on the environmental and business interests at stake in this matter," he wrote, "we ought to be collectively concerned about nonprofits needing to 'pay to play' when they raise their voices about public policies."

NC WARN and The Climate Times argue that the plant is not needed, that the future supply and price of gas are uncertain, and that the plant would worsen the climate crisis by increasing emissions of methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas.

Once heavily reliant on coal, Duke Energy is increasingly shifting its power generation to fracked gas. It's planning to construct up to 15 large gas-fired power plants in the Carolinas and wants to build a large pipeline into North Carolina from the shale gas fields to the north. It's also planning to purchase Piedmont Natural Gas for $4.9 billion, with an NCUC hearing on the merger set for July 18.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Sue Sturgis

Sue is editorial director at the Institute for Southern Studies, which she joined in November 2005 as director of the Institute's Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch, a project to document and investigate the post-Katrina recovery. A former staff writer for the Raleigh News & Observer and Independent Weekly (Durham, North Carolina), Sue directs and regularly contributes to the Institute's online magazine, Facing South, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Sue is the author or coauthor of five Institute reports, including "Faith in the Gulf" (August/September 2008), "Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement" (January 2008) and "Blueprint for Gulf Renewal" (August/September 2007). Sue holds a master's degree in journalism from New York University.