On the heels of a guilty criminal plea for its handling of coal ash, Duke Energy announced today plans to retire by early 2020 its coal-fired power plant in Asheville, where coal ash excavation is underway, and build a solar farm on the site. Although the Asheville plant is equipped with scrubbers to remove some air pollutants, the plant has been entangled in litigation with SELC and our partners for years over water pollution from its primitive coal ash storage. Duke Energy committed last year to remove the coal ash to dry, lined storage.
The decision to close the outdated coal plant altogether is welcome news, especially with the added solar power as well as new transmission capacity to connect the Asheville region to the rest of the state. This is a significant development as the Asheville plant is one of the first coal plants nationwide with modern air pollution control technologies to be shuttered because of its water pollution and climate impacts, and because alternative energy resources are becoming more cost competitive.
But Duke Energy’s plan also relies on construction of a new natural gas plant on site, which is a missed opportunity for a greater investment in energy efficiency and renewables. As Senior Attorney DJ Gerken responded, "Closing this polluting coal plant is a good first step, but Duke Energy told the public last week that it is a different company and now it’s time to prove it, by helping North Carolina move beyond its dependence on fossil fuels and become a leading producer of reliable, renewable energy."