North Carolina regulators have granted Duke Energy Corp. a certificate of public convenience and necessity to construct two 280 MW natural gas-fired combined cycle units in Buncombe County near Asheville, NC.

Following the recommendation of staff and intervenors, the North Carolina Utilities Commission also rejected Duke’s application to construct a third gas-fired unit, a 186 MW simple-cycle combustion turbine unit, in an order filed Monday.

Once operational, the new gas-fired capacity will replace Duke’s existing 376 MW coal plant in Asheville, which the utility said it will retire by 2020.

David Fountain, Duke’s North Carolina president, said the company “is fully committed to creating a smarter and cleaner energy future for the region. We also have a unique opportunity to work with the community to reduce energy demand and invest in technology that will provide cleaner energy” and allow the utility “to continue to provide cost-effective, reliable power to all of our customers in North Carolina and South Carolina.”

Duke will be required to file annual progress reports on efforts to work with customers “to reduce peak load through demand-side management, energy efficiency or other measures, and on” Duke’s “efforts to site solar and storage capacity” in the region, according to the order.

Duke said it plans to apply to construct a minimum of 15 MW of new solar generation once the Asheville coal units are decommissioned. It also said it will apply to construct 5 MW of utility-scale electricity storage over the next seven years.

The utility estimated that replacing the coal units with the new combined-cycle units will: reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 99%; reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 45%; reduce mercury emissions to “negligible levels”; reduce water discharges by 50%; and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50% on a per-MWh basis. The gas-fired units will also be 35% less expensive to operate, Duke said.

Duke is a joint venture (JV) partner in the proposed 1.5 Bcf/d Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which would bring gas produced in the Marcellus and Utica shales to markets in Virginia and North Carolina. The Charlotte, NC-based electric power provider is in the process of acquiring Piedmont Natural Gas, another JV partner in ACP, part of a recent trend of power companies acquiring greater interest in gas infrastructure (see Daily GPI, Feb. 1; Dec. 24, 2015; Oct. 26, 2015).