Duke delays construction of proposed power plant indefinitely

Duke has decided to delay construction indefinitely of a proposed Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant, the University announced Friday.

Instead, the University will pursue opportunities to employ biogas and other fuels for its energy. The proposed plant has drawn considerable criticism on campus and in the community, as groups including the Duke Climate Coalition and NC WARN have opposed the construction of the natural gas-powered facility.

“Duke has an aggressive goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2024 while ensuring that the energy demands of a growing, vibrant campus can be met,” said Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III in a statement.  “While CHP technology creates much greater efficiencies for both the consumer and the producer, we also recognize that advances in technology provide a constantly changing range of options and deserve further study.”

In April 2017, the Duke University Campus Sustainability Committee issued a report making various suggestions about how the plant, proposed for a parcel at the southwest corner of Duke’s West campus, should be implemented. These included requiring that the plant comply with the Clean Air Act and giving Duke a chance to exit the contract after 10 years if a better alternative arises. The Committee also proposed using biogas—a renewable energy source fermented from organic materials—to power the plant within five years of operation. 

Should these goals not be achievable, the Committee recommended not pursuing the project until further research could be done. In response to the report, the University tabled its decision and did not bring a vote to the Board of Trustees that May.

According to the release, Duke led a 2010 project in partnership with a North Carolina farm to see whether biogas could be feasible. The University is now talking with potential suppliers of biogas.

Biogas is largely composed of methane and can be sourced from hog farm waste. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas that typically escapes into the atmosphere if it is not captured and burned as fuel. 

However, a recent advertisement placed by Foundation Earth in the April 4 edition of The Chronicle suggests that such North Carolina farms provide bad conditions for pigs, pollute the water, and contribute to antibiotic resistance. 

A community forum on biogas will be held Tuesday, April 10 at 6:00 p.m. at Penn Pavilion. The last public forum was held March 2017. 

"We applaud the University for listening to student and community concerns and indefinitely delaying the CHP plant," said sophomore Ariyani Challapalli, president of the Duke Climate Coalition. "Throughout this semester, we have emphasized that careful, representative analysis of all campus energy needs is essential. With regards to Duke's plans for biogas, we recommend that before making any decisions, the University commit to including environmental justice communities in a transparent stakeholder process." 

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