Duke seeks permit for new coal plant

A public hearing on whether Duke Energy should be allowed to build a new coal-fired power plant in the Shelby area will be held Tuesday, Sept. 18, in Forest City.

Duke Energy must get an air pollution permit from the state before it can build the coal plant. Under the permit, Duke must demonstrate that it can comply with state and federal limits for various pollutants and toxins, from carbon monoxide to mercury to soot particles.

But environmental groups don’t want any new pollution going into the atmosphere to contribute to global warming.

“Coal-burning power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Avram Friedman of Sylva, director of the Canary Coalition. “There is no technology available to reduce or eliminate the massive amounts of carbon-dioxide released into the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels.”

Friedman called plans to build a new coal plant “business-as-usual” at a time when a new direction in energy is desperately needed.

The coal plant will provide 800 megawatts of power. Duke initially wanted to build a coal plant twice that size, but was turned down by the N.C. Public Utility Commission. To get approval from the utility commission, Duke had to prove that the additional energy generation was needed. The utility commission felt only half of what Duke was proposing was justified to meet the demand for electricity, and therefore approved only half the proposed coal plant.

The air pollution permit is Duke’s last hurdle before it can begin construction, barring any lawsuits from environmental groups. In other states, environmental groups have brought lawsuits to stop the construction of new coal plants.

“Building the new unit as proposed would mean locking in a commitment to outdated, dirty coal technology over the 50-year lifespan of the unit, which would contribute to global warming, ozone and particulate matter pollution, and mercury pollution in our rivers and lakes,” according to Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Gudrun Thompson.

Duke is doing several things to help clean the air in exchange for getting the new plant approved by the utility commission. Duke will shut down 200 megawatts of electricity produced by older coal plants in the Hickory area that don’t have modern pollution controls on them — trading dirtier coal for cleaner coal. It has also pledged to spend $35 million a year encouraging energy conservation among households as a condition of the coal plant permit.

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