Jun 6, 2024 - Business

Duke Energy's influence grows in recruiting new business to North Carolina

duke energy plaza in uptown charlotte

Duke Energy's corporate headquarters building in Uptown Charlotte. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Landing advanced manufacturing jobs is becoming more energy intensive in North Carolina, while at the same time the state is working to reduce its emissions.

Why it matters: North Carolina is competing to win jobs in industries it believes will be most influential in coming years — namely putting millions in incentives toward industries like semiconductors, batteries, electric vehicles and other green-energy products.

Driving the news: In the past two years, the energy needs of manufacturers looking to expand have grown significantly, according to Andrew Tate, director of economic development in North Carolina for Duke Energy.

  • A large project for Duke Energy just three years ago would have been five to 10 megawatts, Tate said. Now the utility routinely hears from businesses that need 50 to 100 megawatts. In some cases, some require more than a thousand megawatts.

The big picture: This means that Duke Energy, the state's regulated monopoly utility, is now one of the first groups to talk to businesses considering North Carolina — potentially making or breaking a project depending on the timelines it provides them.

What they're saying: "Our role has moved from maybe a background role to a much more influential seat in the competitive process, and I think that's new," Tate told Axios. "That's what's changed in the last two years."

  • Now, the Charlotte-based utility is moving to see how it can move around its resources to accommodate new projects (and the growing populations they bring) and helped make the megasites now home to projects like Toyota's battery plant and Wolfspeed's semiconductor plant viable.

State of play: Tate said North Carolina is attractive to many companies because it offers reliable energy at cheaper prices than many states on the East or West Coast. That's partially because Duke operates 11 nuclear reactors across six sites in the Carolinas.

Between the lines: Duke Energy, however, must balance adding more energy sources for the state with reducing its own emissions.

  • A 2021 bipartisan state law requires Duke Energy to achieve a 70% reduction in its carbon dioxide emission from 2005 levels by the end of the decade and net zero emissions by 2050.

What's next: How it accomplishes that, the utility says, will be important for how it remains competitive in bringing businesses to the state.

  • "I believe that the states that move decisively to build new (energy sources) are going to be best positioned to take advantage of these (economic) opportunities," Tate said.
  • Duke now forecasts that North Carolina's electricity usage could grow by four gigawatts by 2030 due to the state's growing population, the needs of industry and more residents buying electric vehicles.
  • By comparison, the Shearon Harris nuclear plant outside of Raleigh produces one gigawatt of energy, enough to power around a million homes.

Duke Energy wants to reach that demand by building another nuclear reactor and adding more battery storage and solar and wind capacity.

  • At the same time, it wants to bring more natural gas plants online — a fact that many environmental activists are pushing back on.
  • The exact mix the utility pursues, however, will be determined in Raleigh later this year, when the N.C. Utilities Commission and Duke Energy produce a carbon reduction and resources plan for meeting the goals.
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