Coal-Fired Plants on the Chopping Block
On February 2, 2014, a coal ash spill polluted 70 miles of the Dan River near the North Carolina-Virginia line. Duke Energy owns the Dan River Steam Station near Eden, NC and is responsible for the burst pipe that led to the spill.
The disaster triggered a series of actions on the part of the North Carolina Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR), the state attorney general, and now the EPA. Citizen-activist groups like the well-organized Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Water Keeper Alliance have pushed for more regulation and tighter restrictions on coal-powered plants.
Duke Energy, based in Charlotte, North Carolina and now the largest electric holding company in the U.S. after its recent merger with Progress Energy Carolinas, has 14 coal-fired plants and is in various stages of repairing facilities, converting from wet ash storage to dry ash, cleaning up toxic pollutants, and retiring old plants.
The Obama administration’s green agenda push has caused coal to become a dirty word, thus Duke has been transitioning away from this non-renewable source of power.
In response to the ongoing problem of containing and controlling coal ash residue, Duke offered an inadequate plan via a letter to the DENR, which had asked for a more detailed response to its initial inquiries. According to the News and Observer:
Duke’s letter contains general information, such as Duke’s history of providing low-cost electricity and a recap of recent events in the Dan River spill...The company’s “comprehensive ash basin plan” takes up all of one single-spaced page.
In that summary, Duke said it plans to remove ash from three sites – Dan River, Riverbend and Asheville – and place the waste into modern, lined landfills where it will be stored in dry form. Riverbend will take the longest to complete, up to 4-1/2 years.
The company has not decided what to do with its other 11 sites, whether the ash will be dug out and moved to lined landfills or whether it will be dried, capped and stored in existing ash pits.
In a recent conference on regulation policy sponsored by Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity (author disclosure: Watchdog Wire is a project of FC), Phil Kerpen, policy analyst and author of Democracy Denied, said the Obama administration’s intent with regard to coal plants is to shut them down through hyper-regulation.
The administration proposed tool kits for state legislators allowing for “local control.” They suggested carbon taxes and cap and trade; an increase in the cost of electricity would necessarily follow. Kerpen added that the government says to the states, “You choose, you vote, you legislate, but if you don’t, we’ll come in with regulations to shut down your plants.”
And that’s precisely what’s happening in North Carolina with Duke Energy. Over the past few years, Duke has retired older plants, while last year, DENR (pre-empting similar SELC lawsuits) brought several lawsuits against Duke, forcing the company to bring its coal-fired plants in line with ever-increasing regulations or face closure.
On March 14, because of the Dan River spill, and at the request of the DENR, the EPA stepped into the fray. A week later, on March 21, the state attorney general also asked the EPA for guidance.
William Jasper at the New American writes: “Since he [Obama] has not been able to get Congress to enact legislation to destroy the coal industry, he is unconstitutionally using the EPA to regulate coal into extinction.”
Regarding the EPA’s newest turns of the screw on coal plants, Michael Bastasch from the Daily Caller writes, “new coal plants have been effectively banned by the EPA rule as even the most efficient coal plant cannot comply unless it adopts costly and unproven carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.”
Where Duke Energy goes from here will depend on the federal grand jury investigation now underway into the relationships between Duke, DENR, and NC Governor McCrory (a former employee of Duke for 28 years) to see if the Dan River spill could have been a result of unenforced laws.
Ann Kane is editor of Watchdog Wire North Carolina. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.