Spirit: Duke Energy has a stake in growing Rowan

Published 11:37 am Tuesday, May 22, 2018

By Susan Shinn Turner

For the Salisbury Post

Not only does Duke Energy provide electricity for more than 58,000 customers in Rowan County, it’s also a partner in economic development.

Duke Energy’s Site Readiness program provides the county with resources to evaluate different sites to assure prospective businesses that they meet all the requirements for infrastructure and environmental studies, says Rod Crider, president and CEO of the Rowan Economic Development Commission. “It’s a huge cost savings to a prospective buyer.”

“Whenever you can reduce risk to a site, that gives us advantages over communities that don’t have site certification,” Crider added.

Duke Energy also provides economic incentives of reduced utilities for a period of time to new businesses. The company is the county’s top taxpayer.

“Duke Energy is very active in economic development and very knowledgeable of our community,” Crider says. “They have a strong interest in seeing that we grow.”

More businesses here, Crider says, means more customers for Duke Energy.

Duke Energy is partnering with the county to run 5.5 miles of water mains and 4 miles of service lines to about 180 homes near the Buck Steam Station. As Duke Energy continues its closure of the coal ash basins there, the water project will provide its neighbors with a permanent water supply.

“There are several large tracts of land right off the interstate,” says Aaron Church, county manager. “Anytime you provide infrastructure where there is none, it is an economic benefit to serving businesses. We continue to have a positive relationship with Duke Energy.”

Last summer, the company met with those neighbors to talk about the decommissioning of Buck Steam Station, which first served the area in 1926, electrifying the Carolinas as well as area cotton mills, says Erin Culbert, communications manager for Duke Energy.

“Buck has really been a part of the fabric of Rowan County for a long time,” Culbert says.

The six coal units were retired by 2013. The natural gas plant now in place there — online since 2011 — is more efficient and cleaner, Culbert says. “You can see the old plant and the old technology and how it’s giving way to new technology.”

The old plant is scheduled for implosion by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the company is in the process of removing some 6.5 million tons of coal ash on site. To do so, Duke Energy is building an ash recycling unit that will allow the processed material to be used in the concrete industry, Culbert says.

The unit is expected to be operational in late 2019 and will mean a dozen new jobs for the county. The gas plant employs 35. Construction of the ash recycling unit will employ local workers, she adds.

Culbert said the company expects 100 to 200 workers will be involved in construction of the ash processing unit. “Like with the solar site, these folks will be contributing to the local economy during their time on the project.”

Other examples of Duke Energy’s economic development partnership with Rowan County include:

• Construction of the new Woodleaf solar facility.

“We have been doing a lot of work to transition away from less efficient energy to cleaner and more sustainable forms for energy,” Culbert says.

North Carolina is second nationwide — behind California — in terms of its solar capacity, Culbert says. To that end, a solar project is planned for the end of 2018 on 48 acres near N.C. 801 and Old U.S. 70. The project will bring 50 construction jobs to the area, contribute to the tax base, and add to Duke Energy’s renewables portfolio, Culbert says.

• Grants to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

To date, the company has donated more than $1 million to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in workforce development grants. It is one of the company’s philanthropic priorities, according to Randy Welch, district manager for Duke Energy Carolinas. Duke’s most recent donation will add to the Advanced Technology Center’s equipment for 21st-century workforce development.

“Developing the region’s workforce benefits us all,” Welch has said. “Our investments come full circle when many of the students go on to work for area industries, and those industries then gain skilled workers trained to meet the community needs.”

The money has enabled equipment enhancements for engineering technologies programs at RCCC.

“This equipment will be used in three different degree programs at Rowan-Cabarrus: electronics engineering technology, industrial engineering technology and mechanical engineering technology,” said Michael Quillen, vice president of academic programs, when the grant was announced in 2016. “Skills gained by training on this equipment will enable our students to gain employment in a variety of industries. Additionally, students will also be better prepared for transfer to engineering programs in the UNC system through prearranged articulation agreements.”

The college’s vision statement, “building sustainable futures through the power of learning,” has been supported for a decade by Duke Energy and its efforts to help businesses replace lighting and increase energy savings.

“We are working on our next innovative practice together as the college pursues turning on its solar rooftop system this spring,” said Rowan-Cabarrus President Carol S. Spalding.