WILMINGTON — Duke Energy trucks clustered near the cobblestone blocks of downtown Wilmington’s Orange Street Tuesday morning, making progress on a multi-year infrastructure improvement project that company officials say will dampen the threat of extreme weather to power lines.
The movement to bolster Duke’s property — with new power lines and poles placed in targeted areas downtown — comes as hurricane season approaches. Areas around the company’s Orange Street substation, a local hub of electricity, will benefit from grid improvements that will improve service for nearly 10,000 Wilmington customers in the space between downtown and Forest Hills, Duke officials said.
“The buzzword in the industry right now is ‘resiliency’ because we’ve seen storms increasing in frequency and severity, especially here in coastal communities,” said Jeff Brooks, Duke’s regional spokesperson.
“These neighborhoods have seen a lot of outages over the years, and they often have less reliability than some of the other customers in the area. We want to make sure they can enjoy the same level of reliability that other customers have, but also that when severe weather strikes, we can restore power faster for them.”
Brooks added some of the most outage-prone territories would have lines placed underground. The downtown-to-Forest Hills section of Duke’s grid improvements are expected to take a year to complete. In all, Brooks said, more than 30,000 customers would see infrastructure improvements benefit their service throughout the years-long effort to come.
“You’re going to see a lot of Duke Energy in the next few years,” he said. “Up in Porters Neck we’re installing a new substation and building new lines up there to help support growth in that area. We’re adding self-healing capabilities to most of our main lines here in the Wilmington area over the next few years.”
“Self-healing” lines, Brooks said, “automatically detects a power outage and quickly restores power by rerouting power to other lines.”
Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported an activist investor, Elliot Management Corporation, urged Duke to divorce its holdings into three separate companies based on service regions: the Carolinas, Florida and the Midwest.
According to the Journal, Elliot is one of Duke’s top 10 largest shareholders. North Carolina leaders, including Gov. Roy Cooper and top Republicans in the legislature, released a stern statement in response to the Journal’s reporting: “We’re proud that North Carolina is headquarters to Duke Energy and of the thousands of jobs it provides,” they said in a press release.
“There are natural concerns that come with putting our state’s energy future in the hands of a Wall Street hedge fund, and we would expect the North Carolina Utilities Commission to strictly scrutinize any such arrangement.”
Brooks said Duke has reviewed proposals in the past, like the most recent one from Elliot, and has no plans to cede control to other entities.
“We review all the proposals that are sent. They are not, in our opinion, in the best interest of our customers and our shareholders, so we’re not going to pursue those, but we certainly take our job very seriously to our local communities.”
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