We have lambasted US energy operator Duke Energy in the past for missing out on renewables and sticking so steadfastly to fossil fuels, and with lots of classic “toxic ash” clean ups at the bottom of some coal plants, and some cases of “poisoning” local lakes. But it is perhaps a misunderstood company, the product of America as it is today, fossil fuel obsessed, but also discouraged from “over-reacting” to climate change.
Most US coverage of the moves pointed fingers and called it public enemy number one, with an outdated reliance on dirty, dangerous and expensive coal-fired power plants. It has brought forward the disposal of coal plants, but not half so much as consumers would like.
One of Duke’s obligations as a supplier in Indiana, is to talk about how it will supply the needs of its 840, 000 energy customers, but at least the future strategy is not entirely empty of renewables.
It is Indiana’s largest electric supplier and says it is obligated to supply reliable and increasingly clean electricity while keeping costs as low as possible and in its once every 3 years plan, it has shown that it can both embrace renewables and close down coal plants early.
It is important that a company supplying that many people with electricity does not go bust – so Duke has to make the closure of coal work financially. It will have to pay off debts associated with any plants that it closes.
Its Integrated Resource Plan (which is merely indicative and which it doesn’t have to stick to) shows that today almost 90% of the power it produced in Indiana is coal-fired but it is “accelerating” the retirement of some of the coal-fired units adding both gas and renewable energy to replace them.
It said that as coal-fired generation is gradually retired, it expects to add by year 2037 1,240 MW of cleaner burning natural gas, 700 MW of wind energy, and 1,650 MW of solar. That is actually more renewables than gas, which is a bit of an admission for a company so entrenched in fossil fuels. But it is being guided purely by pricing, and not at all by climate issues.
It has brought forward the retirement of two coal fired units by 7 years from 2035 to 2028 in Vermillion County and will replace these with a 1,240 MW combined cycle natural gas-fired plant, but has not said when it will retire that.
It will retire two coal plants in Gibson County just two years early in 2038 and on others it is taking 9 years, 7 years and 18 years off their working life. In Floyd County it will stick to its previously announced retirement date of 2022.
But the controversial Edwardport Station will have no change to its 2045 retirement date. We say controversial because while it claims that the Edwardsport Station is one of the cleanest coal-fired power plants in the world, it overspent by around $1 billion and never got permission to run it with full carbon capture, injecting the coal deep into the ground, as it was designed, and it could not get a license to transport the captured carbon to somewhere else safe to dump it either.
It does convert the coal into a synthesis gas, stripping out some of the pollutants, which it then burns as if it was a combined cycle gas turbine.
From its current position of just spending $100 million in commercial renewables in its accounts and selling off 49% of its renewable energy portfolio last year, to where it says it expects to end up by 2037, is a huge step forward.
Duke claims to have decreased sulfur dioxide emissions by 95%, nitrogen oxide emissions by 63% and carbon emissions by 21% to date, but that is pretty much moving from all coal to some coal and some gas and not much else.