The atmosphere was heated at a Monday meeting where community members gathered to give feedback on building a power plant on campus.
The University’s Campus Sustainability Committee held a forum Monday night in which community members, Duke affiliates and other stakeholders could give their thoughts on Duke Energy's proposal for a $55 million, 21-megawatt combined heat and power plant.
“Some members of the community are upset about the stakeholder process,” said Casey Collins, energy manager in facilities management. “Obviously there are many people in this room who are for the combined heat and power plant or against it, who feel passionately about combating climate change and minimizing the University’s greenhouse gas footprint and want the University to demonstrate leadership.”
Past weekly meetings have discussed issues surrounding the construction—including environmental effects, possible alternatives and energy security—said Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and co-chair of the Campus Sustainability Committee.
While opening the meeting, Profeta said that the purpose of the event was for the committee to hear the perspectives of those in attendance. Although the majority of the attendees who spoke either critiqued the decision process or took issue with the idea of the plant, the committee heard a wide array of opinions.
John Steelman, program manager for the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said his council had been tracking the proposed plant since last summer. He emphasized that the plant would not help to do away with less favorable coal plants and warned against the precedent being set by building the plant at Duke Energy’s ratepayers’ expense.
Emma Wyman, who identified herself as a “North Carolina native and concerned young person,” also expressed qualms about the plant.
“I’m concerned about this process and, if this agreement is entered into, it might set a precedent for these types of agreements being made by private corporations and utilities with universities for private gain," she said. "That’s kind of a scary notion."
Wyman also noted concerns about information sheets that had been distributed at the meeting, which sought to explain some of the University’s “talking points,” but failed to mention the consequences of methane gas emissions.
Nancy LaPlaca—a consultant for North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, an environmental non-profit which opposes the plant and distributed flyers at Monday’s event—questioned the involvement of stakeholders throughout the decision-making process.
The public had not been notified about the University’s intentions in a timely manner, LaPlaca said, and the “process has been flawed from the start.”
After the meeting concluded, LaPlaca said that she saw it as a “good start” toward more open dialogue, but that it was only a start. She added that she hopes to see more engagement between experts on both sides of the issue.
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Greg Heaton, who studies renewable energy and electrical systems at Durham Technical Community College, urged both sides to avoid searching for overly simplistic solutions to the problem.
“I think that the reality is that if Duke does not produce on campus at a CHP plant, it would buy energy from Duke Energy produced somewhere else in a worse plant,” he said.
Jim Warren, executive director at NC WARN, repeatedly expressed his frustrations with the plant and the process.
“Put this thing off for a few years, get it right,” he said. “Don’t rush it through. You’ve got no compelling reason to move it forward right now.”