Will new nuclear plants be ‘part of the picture’ for Duke Energy? CEO raises doubt
Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good sounded a strongly doubtful note about the company proceeding with its proposed Lee Nuclear Station in her speech Wednesday to the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce.
Talking about what Charlotte-based Duke (NYSE:DUK) would look like in 2025, she said natural gas would be the backbone of its power fleet and that the utility would make greater use of renewable energy and battery storage.
“Nuclear will continue to be an important part of energy supplies in the Carolinas,” she said “But whether or not new nuclear is a part of the picture remains to be seen.”
Duke still includes the proposed 2,334-megawatt Lee plant in its long-range plans. But the utility has never formally committed to construction of the $12 billion project. Good’s comments raised new doubts about whether it ever will.
Since 2012, Duke has abandoned plans to build new nuclear units in Raleigh and in Florida. The Lee plant, proposed for Gaffney, S.C., is the last new nuclear plant still included in the company’s plans.
Good explained after the speech that Duke will work to hold on to its current nuclear fleet “for absolutely as long as we can.” That means looking at plants slated to retire starting after 2030 to see if their life can be extended another 20 or 40 years, which is a possibility the entire industry is considering for nuclear assets.
Less fuel diversity
But the company will have to “look very hard at whether we can replace current nuclear with new nuclear,” she said.
That is likely to mean a much greater dependence on natural gas plants than there is now.
Good said that no new coal plants will be built in the United States. With Duke having closed 4,400 megawatts worth of coal plants in the last several years and already being slated to close as much as 1,900 megawatts more in the next few years, the utility fuel mix will be less diverse than it has been in the past. Foregoing new nuclear plants would further restrict the balanced fuel mix that Duke has always touted as a key to its current success.
She noted that renewables and storage will make up for some of that loss. But Duke’s long-range plan calls for getting less than 4% of its power from renewables by 2030.