Duke Energy increases its renewable energy capacity

912 MW Los Vientos Wind Farm was owned by and operated by The Duke in Texas (Courty of Duke Energy).

Duke Energy announced that it will double its electricity generation capacity using renewable energy sources in 2021.

Duke added 1,800 MW to its total wind and solar capacity in the past year, bringing it to 10,500 MW. The utility plans to own, operate, or contract for 16,000 MW renewable energy by 2025.

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Duke’s portfolio included 436 MW of renewable power in North Carolina. This was followed by 429 in Florida, 351 in Oklahoma, and 332 in Texas.

Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy, stated that the utility will double its renewable energy capacity by 2020 and cease generating electricity from coal by 2035 in a February conference call with investors.

Duke plans to invest $63 billion in capital over the next five-years. 80% of this capital will be used to support grid modernization and investments in zero or lower carbon emitting generation. Good stated that Duke’s wind- and solar capacity would rise from 10,000 MW up to 24,000 MW by 2030.

“As coal is phased out from our generation profile, it will be replaced with zero-carbon resources and prudent investments in cleaner natural gas,” Good said, according to a transcript summary of the call.

Duke has retired 56 coal units, resulting in 7.5 GW of capacity. Good said. To ensure reliability in the absence and replacement of coal, the utility will invest approximately $4 billion in hydrogen-enabled natural gaz generation.

Over the same period, $15 billion would be spent in nuclear, renewables and storage. $33 billion would be spent in transmission and distribution infrastructure.

According to Billy Pizer (Vice President for Research and Policy Engagement at the non-profit think-tank Resources for the Future), the financial sector is becoming more concerned about the ownership of fossil fuel assets, especially coal facilities. Against this backdrop of regulation and financial momentum, “rapidly phasing out coal is good not just for the environment but for Duke Energy’s business.”

North Carolina Governor. Roy Cooper signed a bipartisan mandate requiring the state to reduce carbon emissions 70% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. (Courtesy of North Carolina Governor’s Office).

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke is working to comply with a bipartisan clean energy and emissions mandate signed into law by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) in October. House Bill 951, which emerged from a Republican-controlled state legislature, requires the state to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

The bill gives the state’s utilities commission until 2022 to create a plan with utilities in order to meet the required emissions targets. The Carbon Plan would then be reviewed every other year and may be amended. Any generation or resource changes must maintain grid reliability.

The utilities commission was authorized by the government to direct the procurement of solar power this year by utilities. Regulators were also instructed to establish rules within 180-days for the early retirement subcritical coal plants.

Good said that Dude would file its carbon plan after obtaining input from stakeholders. She said that Dude expected to receive an order on its carbon plan by the end of the year.

Jordan Kern, an assistant professor in the North Carolina State University Department, looks only at Duke’s North Carolina operations. Forestry and Environment Resources believes the utility is doing enough to decarbonize its grid and reach the Paris Climate Agreement goal.

Kern stated that other states can also learn from Duke and North Carolina’s example.

Kern explained that House Bill 951 encourages Duke Energy, which will invest billions in infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions. The public utilities commissioner will allow for cost recovery through higher electricity rates. Renewable Energy World. “Duke Energy shareholders could eventually benefit from this investment, and that was probably what was important in getting buy-in form the utility.

“Electricity customers will definitely see higher bills but that is not a problem if we are discussing meaningful steps to reduce climate change.”

While stakeholders are engaged in the creation of the North Carolina Carbon Plan are waiting for Duke’s jumpstart transmission planning to meet growing solar demand for interconnection, they are still engaging in the process.

Maggie Shober (research director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy), stated that Duke “hasn’t engaged or presented to stakeholders” about what type of transmission planning it would include and how Duke plans get that going before 2030.

duke energy greenhouse gas emissions
Duke Energy’s Sutton natural-gas plant (Courtesy of Duke Energy)

Duke also announced that the utility’s 2050 net zero goals would be expanded to include Scope 2 emissions and certain Scope 3 emissions.

The utility stated that it would include emissions from power it buys for resale, from fossil fuel procurement and electricity it purchases to use for its own purposes.

Duke set a new net zero by 2050 goal for natural gas business. It includes “upstream carbon emissions and methane related to purchased gas, and downstream carbon emission from customers’ consumption.”

Duke claims that it has already reduced Scope 1 emissions from electricity generation in half the amount of 2005.

Matt Abele from the NC Sustainable Energy Association spoke. Renewable Energy World that Duke’s announced coal plant closures are the result of HB951, which allowed the utility to recoup costs from retirements. He expressed doubt about Duke’s increased emissions targets.

“The jury is still out” on Duke’s additional commitment to Scope 2/3 emissions. Scope 1 said that Duke “still seems fairly committed” to natural gas in its own fleet. He cited Duke’s most recent integrated resource plan as proof. He also cited “expanded efforts for cross-state collaboration” through mechanisms like the Southeast Energy Exchange Market that “may actually increase” natural gas dependency in the state. 

Duke is one of 15 utilities to have supported the SEEM Market design.