Saturday, June 22, 2024

Duke Energy has nuclear plans for Stokes County plant site

Duke Energy’s latest carbon-reduction plan calls for placing a modular “advanced nuclear” reactor on the site of the Belews Creek Steam Station, a partially coal-fired power plant that’s slated for retirement.

The proposal comes because the site has the land, infrastructure and workforce that Duke needs, and because Stokes County and the surrounding community “is reliant on [the] tax base” associated with the Belews Creek facility, Duke spokesman Bill Norton says.

“The current coal- and gas-fired plant is 17% of the Stokes County tax base, so the local community is very interested in replacement generation,” Norton says. “You combine all those factors, and it made for a very good match.”

Duke also reckons placing a reactor at “one other plant location to be determined” as it looks to retire its remaining coal plants, it said in announcing the filing of its latest proposed Carbon Plan Integrated Resource Plan.

The plan covers Duke’s activities in North and South Carolina, and was filed first in South Carolina on Tuesday afternoon. The North Carolina filing is scheduled to follow on Thursday.

Regulators in both states have to review the proposal, and approve it (separately) after gathering public input. Duke is expecting the process to take until mid-2024 in South Carolina and late 2024 in North Carolina.

The current plan dates from 2022.

The nuclear proposal isn’t new, but publicly identifying Belews Creek as a prospective site for it is. Inclusion in the Integrated Resource Plan is but one of many regulatory hurdles to overcome, but Duke hopes to have the first unit on line there in 2034, Norton says.

“Advanced” nuclear is a euphemism for a move to modular, manufactured reactors of the sort the U.S. Navy has relied on for decades to power its submarines and aircraft carriers. (The USN put a nuke plant in only one of those, the USS Long Beach, which was decommissioned in 1994.)

They differ in kind from the large, one-off, custom-designed nuclear stations, like Duke’s Shearon Harris plant near the Triangle, that have dominated the power industry in decades past. Backers hope they’ll be more cost- and space-efficient.

The Integrated Resource Plan covers the entire mix of power-generation and storage plants Duke would like to build in the coming years — not just the nuclear ones — to meet customer demand and its carbon-reduction goals.

It posits the construction of 6 gigawatts of solar by 2031 (3.3 gigawatts more than the 2022 plan), 1.2 gigawatts of onshore wind power by 2032 (900 megawatts more than in the 2022 plan), and the preservation of options for building 1.6 gigawatts of offshore wind plants for 2033 or later.

Duke wants to have 2.7 gigawatts of battery storage capacity by 2031, to extend the value of energy generated from solar plants (mostly) into the nighttime hours. That builds on an initial foray into battery storage near Asheville. Duke’s new filing proposes 2.1 gigawatt more storage than did the 2022 plan.

The utility wants to have 5.8 gigawatts worth of natural-gas plants that are also capable of running on hydrogen, against the day when transmission and storage of that cleaner-burning fuel is more widely available. That’s 2.7 gigawatts more than in the 2022 plan, and it includes placing coal-fired facilities in Person County and Catawba County.

Hydrogen’s prospective use is a bit controversial these days, with the Biden administration wanting to push the industry in that direction, and some industry groups and politicians pushing back with the argument that the infrastructure for it’s not there.

But Duke is part of a consortium that’s seeking federal aid to overcome that, and is “a finalist for that funding,” Norton says.

Moreover, “I’m not sure if any vendors are designing plants that aren’t hydrogen-capable at this point,” he says. “Based on where industry is going, that’s where everyone is aiming.”

Finally, Duke continues to count on upgrading the Bad Creek Pumped Storage Project, which is in South Carolina’s Oconee County amid the North/South Carolina border mountains.

As did the 2022 plan, the utility figures on getting 1.7 gigawatts more from the Bad Creek hydro project, which pumps water some 1,200 feet uphill from Lake Jocassee into a reservoir during low-load periods and holds it there for later release into a set of turbines to generate peak power.

Norton says the plan is to build a second powerhouse that would allow Duke to move twice as much water as it can now and generate twice as much electricity

“It’s now a 24-hour battery; this would make it a 12-hour battery at full throttle,” he says, noting that Duke doesn’t intend to expand the storage reservoir. “But we would be able to generate twice as much energy in a shorter duration.”

For perspective on all these numbers, the Catawba Nuclear Station, which is in York County, S.C., near Charlotte, has two reactors (one partially owned by Electricities members), each of which can generate about 1.1 gigawatts of electricity.

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