Duke Energy’s strategic shift: Building a reliable natural gas power plant

By Brianna Kraemer

Raleigh, NC – Duke Energy has revealed plans to build a new natural gas power plant in Catawba County beginning in 2026, sticking to a reliable energy source as demand growth accelerates and green energy options fall short.

Duke Energy employees at natural gas plant. (photo courtesy of Duke Energy)

Duke Energy filed an application to construct the new facility with the North Carolina Utilities Commission last week. If approved, the proposed plant would open in 2029 and replace the current Marshall Steam Station, one of its largest facilities that runs off both coal and natural gas. The new plant would contain two units with a total capacity of 850 megawatts. 

In the filed paperwork, Duke states the new facility is part of its “least cost energy transition strategy to reliably add new generation to the Companies’ combined systems while enabling the orderly retirement of aging, coal-fired generating facilities.” 

Critics have said the plan indicates continued reliance on fossil fuels, while experts note that natural gas emits far fewer emissions than coal. Natural gas became price-competitive with coal in the 2000s and is widely considered the the “bridge fuel” between coal and zero-emissions nuclear, explains Jon Sanders, director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life at the John Locke Foundation. He said natural gas could potentially be a bridge to hydrogen power, as well, when that technology becomes viable. 

“I am speaking in the world of practical realities,” said Sanders. “Those are reliable, baseload sources. Natural gas is a big reason why our state’s emissions from electricity generation has been cut nearly in half since 2005. It’s a story that media don’t like to tell.”

Due to the high rate of population growth, expansion of manufacturing industry, and other major economic developments, Duke recently revamped its energy forecast, predicting ‘unprecedented’ power demand in the years ahead. By 2030, power demand could be eight times above what the company estimates were just two years ago. That’s why Duke is adding power capacity. The fresh plans include more reliable baseload energy sources such as natural gas plants and more advanced nuclear reactors, but also include the utilization of both onshore and offshore wind facilities.

Duke has been forced to close baseload power plants run on coal in order to comply with General Statute 62-110.9. The statute calls for public utilities in North Carolina to, by 2030, achieve a 70% reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide emitted from electric generating facilities from 2005 levels and carbon neutrality by the year 2050. Replacement generation assets will need to be baseload power plants in order to be supplied by constant and reliable sources of electricity. Otherwise, North Carolina could suffer constant blackouts for much higher costs, Sanders warned. 

“Regular people want access to power whenever they flip on a switch,” said Sanders. “They don’t want to be dependent upon daylight, clear skies, and the presence of wind in order to keep their refrigerators running and heat and cool their homes. They also don’t want to pay much higher power bills for this unreliability.”

Due to the dual mandate, energy plans will incorporate traditional forms of dispatchable, on-demand resources like advanced nuclear and natural gas for reliability, while also expanding renewables that can deliver aggressive emissions reductions, like solar and offshore wind.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act has assisted Duke Energy in furthering green initiatives. The legislation secured billions of dollars for green energy projects, but Congress could one day repeal such spending.

The American Clean Power Association is working to ensure the green energy subsidies don’t go away, Breitbart recently reported. Leaked documents show officials are eyeing Republicans who will work to keep the programs in place, including two Republican lawmakers representing North Carolina: Sen. Thom Tillis and Rep. David Rouzer. Both are named in the 66-page document as Republicans from the Tar Heel State to target with pressure campaigns to influence their support for green energy agendas.