Last updated: October 24. 2013 9:11PM - 1525 Views
Amanda Moss Richmond County Daily Journal

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A Duke Energy Progress official agrees with an environmental watchdog representative — the public should become familiar with “all the facts” related to the proposed operations expansion of the Hamlet facility.

Last week the North Carolina Department Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Air Quality released a draft permit that is currently under review. A second public comment period opened Oct. 18 and will remain so through Nov. 17 Duke Energy Progress is seeking to increase the allowed capacity of its operations plant in Hamlet. The permit would allow Duke Energy Progress to operate five of its combustion turbines at full capacity at the natural gas-burning facility.

According to the draft permit, this would increase the hours of operation from 2,000 hours to 8,760 hours annually, more than quadrupling the current function of the turbines.

Lisa Hoffman, of Duke Energy Progress media relations, explained that while that is what the permit would allow, that is not the true intent of the company.

“I can understand how that might be misread, but it does not necessarily mean the turbines will be operating to that amount for an entire year,” Hoffman said. “All it is saying is that if we needed to do so, we could, and still stay within the state regulations.”

Hoffman said that the 8,760 hours that the public is seeing is just the operations at its maximum.

“It is highly unlikely that the turbines will operate to that capacity,” Hoffman said. “The intent is to allow the turbines to be used more frequently due to the demand of the public, for example during the summer time when more people use their air condition. Before we were limited in operating the turbines that burn natural gas. The permit will allow us to use them more and at the same time offset coal generation.”

During the first public comment period, only one organization — Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, of Glendale Springs — submitted a statement concerning the matter — leaving one to wonder the real importance of the issue.

Kate Dunnagan, community organizer for the league, blames the lack of public comment on the fact that many people weren’t aware of the issue.

“It all really depends on the awareness of issues,” Dunnagan said. “Information is posted on the air quality website. People have to go to the website and check the calendar to see it. If it is not being picked up by a local news station or paper then it is hard for people to find out about it.”

Dunnagan still thinks it is a matter of great public interest and that the public should be informed of the situation.

“This is a major public health and safety concern,” Dunnagan said. “Expanding the facility at Richmond County is going to allow Duke to burn a lot of natural gas and increase their profits. It is not going to serve anyone in Richmond County — it will just pollute the area.”

Hoffman agrees with Dunnagan in that the public should be informed as to the facts surrounding the permit.

“I live near two power plants myself,” Hoffman said. “As a resident and as a mother I would want to know all the facts. How is it affecting the overall air quality? What are the realistic possibilities in getting services at a decent price while still protecting the environment? You have to be realistic and look at all of the facts of the situation.”

The draft permit is now available to the public. It is available online at the DAQ website, daq.state.nc.us. Click on “public notices,” then “October” and then choose Oct. 18. The draft and review documents both are available to download.

Those that wish to submit written comments or a written request for a public hearing are welcome to do so. The comments and requests must be postmarked no later than Nov. 17 and addressed to Rahul Thaker, NC DENR Division of Air Quality, 1641 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1641.

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