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Proposed power plant for Duke campus already generating heat

Posted March 27

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— Opponents of a power plant that has been proposed for Duke University's campus say it is unneeded and would expand the use of natural gas obtained through the controversial process of "fracking."

Duke agreed last year to allow Duke Energy to build the 21-megawatt combined heat and power plant on a 1-acre site off Wallace Wade Boulevard, but after some people questioned the move, university administrators decided to collect more community input before proceeding.

A meeting for people to speak in favor of or against the $55 million plant took place Monday night and while the discussion remained peaceful, attendees made it very clear they felt the process was flawed from the beginning.

Most who spoke were not sold on the 21-megawatt plant and one main concern was pollution.

"It's not good for the environment and we as a community. I live very close to Duke," said Durham resident Alice Hall. "When the environment suffers we suffer for that."

Others were concerned about potential rate increases for Duke Energy customers because of the proposed plant while others urged Duke to look into renewable energy sources.

Subcommittee chair Tim Profeta said he wanted people to walk away with more of an understanding.

"This university wants to lead on climate change. We want to help address one of the great problems of our generation. We also need to provide the services this university needs to function with as little gas emissions as possible," Profeta said.

A university committee will take the comments into account before making a recommendation on the plant next month. The North Carolina Utilities Commission also must sign off on the plan before construction can begin.

Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless said Duke University already has some natural gas boilers on campus to produce steam for heat and hot water, but new technology that captures and reuses waste heat from power generation to produce steam for heat and hot water is more efficient. Not only would the plant save the university $2 million a year in energy costs, Wheeless said, the new plant could also provide power to nearby neighborhoods.

"We can do it more efficiently and use less natural gas to do what they’re doing right now," he said, noting North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill operate similar "co-generation" plants on their campuses.

But Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN, an environmental nonprofit that is a frequent Duke Energy critic, said the new plant would benefit Duke University at the expense of other Durham residents.

"It’s something that would be set up to primarily benefit the university while its neighbors and all others customers under Duke Energy’s system would be paying for the plant," Warren said. "It would be another rate increase for an unnecessary facility."

Wheeless noted that NC WARN backed co-generation plants in a 2013 paper as a way to reduce the need for large power plants.

Warren also complained that the proposed Duke University plant would rely on natural gas produced through hydraulic fracturing, a process commonly referred to as fracking in which water and chemicals are piped under pressure into underground shale rock formations to break apart the rock and release trapped gas.

"This is essentially a global-warming machine they’re proposing to build there, and it would increase local air pollution, too," he said. "The people in Durham should care because of local air emissions, because of the economic injustice of building a power plant we don’t need and charging all of them for it, and because the climate crisis is impacting all of them and all of us already."

Warren said Duke University called the community meeting too late in the process and only because of pressure from his group, students and alumni.

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  • John Kramer Mar 28, 6:05 a.m.
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    After everyone is done whining, they will still build it. Duke Energy has made a very good plan and Duke University is smart to pursue this.

    In spite of what NC WARN and other like minded folks think, it will reduce Duke's carbon footprint. But hey, it's so cool to protest! LOL