• North Carolina regulators approve two natural gas units
  • Environmental group said new power generators not needed

Duke Energy Corp., the largest U.S. utility owner, won approval on Monday from North Carolina regulators to spend about $1 billion to convert a coal-fired power generator into one that burns natural gas.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission signed off on Duke’s proposal to build two 280 megawatt gas-fired units at the Asheville station in the western part of the state that currently houses a 376-megawatt coal facility, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company said in a statement. The company said the project will result in less pollution with the coal plant being retired by 2020.

Duke has been under pressure in the state to clean up its power generators after its 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River. The company has been seeking growth in regulated assets that can provide guaranteed returns on investments. It’s also expanding into the natural gas business with a $4.9 billion proposed acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas Co., a gas distributor in the U.S. southeast.

Opponents of Duke’s conversion plan have said the new gas-fired units aren’t necessary and called for the coal plant to be shut immediately. The project “would be high-risk economically, and would accelerate the global climate crisis at the worst possible time," NC WARN, a Durham, North Carolina-based clean energy advocacy group, said in a statement Monday.

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