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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Greens Say N.C. Blocked Power Plant Fight

(CN) - North Carolina law wrongly denies the public the ability to challenge the construction of new power plants in the state, such as the one Duke Energy has planned for Asheville, an environmental watchdog group claims.

In a lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court Oct. 12, the North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network (NC WARN) claims the state denied its due process rights when the North Carolina Utility Commission turned down the group's appeal of the new power plant's certification.

According to the 28-page lawsuit, the North Carolina General Assembly in 2015 passed a law whose sole purpose was to allow Duke Energy to bypass the traditional approval process for a large, fracked-gas power plant planned for Asheville.

The law exempts power plant applications from the standard requirements for issuing a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.

In its complaint, NC WARN says the enactment of law effectively handcuffs the North Carolina Utility Commission, preventing it from conducting a thorough assessment of whether the planned project meets a genuine public need and serves the public interest.

"CPCN Shortcut Laws prevent the public interest inquiry by eliminating evidentiary hearings; truncating procedural safeguards; precluding the public from accessing cost information about the project during the CPCN application review process; and ultimately requiring the Commission to hurriedly decide upon a CPCN application without complete information," the complaint says.

NC WARN says this violates both the state and U.S. constitutions.

Further, it says, if successful this time, the state will be emboldened to enact similar "shortcut" laws in the future to allow Energy to build 15 large-capacity gas fired plants across the Carolinas.

In addition to challenging the alleged circumvention of the permitting process, the environmentalists also take issue with a provision of state law that requires anyone appealing the approval of a power plant to put up a multi-million dollar when doing so.

The complaint says this bond requirement silences critics of power plant projects and denies them their due process rights.

In a written statement, Jim Warren, the organization's executive director, says "The General Assembly gave special favors to a powerful special interest, but it's plainly unconstitutional for politicians and regulators to allow the giant Duke Energy monopoly to keep building power plants without careful, open review."

The environmentalists say when they submitted a request to appeal the commission's approval of the Asheville project, they were told they must post a $98 million bond before the appeal could be undertaken.

NC Warn says the commission denied the organization's appeal request after it failed to post the bond.

The organization is asking the court to declare the challenged laws unconstitutional and unenforceable.

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