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Amid climate change, Duke Energy spends millions on the power grid

Whiteville sub 01.JPG
Duke Energy
Duke Energy's new Whiteville substation is on a site 30 feet higher than the old one, to protect it from flooding.

Climate change is already quietly costing us millions of dollars, as we try to prepare for extreme weather. In the Columbus County seat of Whiteville on Monday, Duke Energy celebrated the opening of a new electrical substation, part of $30 million in upgrades by Duke to ensure the power grid can withstand the next big hurricane.

The new substation is about a mile from the old one, which flooded during hurricanes Matthew and Florence. In 2016, Matthew left the substation under five or six feet of water, said Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks.

"It was a pretty substantial flooding situation. It actually took out our substation there in that community for an extended period of time. And when that happens, that means the town can't get back on its feet. It can't start recovery without that electricity," he said.

Two years later during Florence, it happened again.

So Duke first built a flood wall around the station. Then it built the new substation on a site that's 30 feet higher than the old one and no longer in the 500-year flood plain.

Brooks said Duke recently has upgraded 13 substations across North and South Carolina for similar reasons.

"This is a challenge that we see across a lot of our service area. We want to strengthen the grid to be more resistant to outages from these types of events," Brooks said. "And not just at the coast. We're doing the same work in the Piedmont in Charlotte, all throughout the (Interstate) 85 corridor."

"All of this is going to work together to make our grid more resistant to the impacts of extreme weather that we're beginning to see here in the Carolinas," he said.

This article originally appeared on WFAE's weekly Climate newsletter.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.