It’s lights out for coal in Asheville as Duke Energy announces natural gas power plant


Duke Energy officials on Tuesday announced plans to shut down its coal-fired power plant in south Asheville within five years. A new natural gas plant will replace the coal plant. A solar farm will also be a part of the new natural gas plant, they said. The new plant must be built and running before the coal-fired plant is shut down, and that all should happen by about 2020, the officials said.

Duke Energy will tear down most of the existing coal plant structure, officials said, including its imposing smoke stack, which can be seen for miles around. Air pollution will decrease, and the plant will stop pumping hot water into adjacent Lake Julian, the officials said. Duke’s Asheville plant is “the largest electric generating facility in Western North Carolina, and began commercial operation in 1964, with additions in 1971, 1999 and 2000,” according to its website. The company has invested millions of dollars in recent years to cut air emissions.

Last week, Duke Energy pleased guilty to criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act for the discharge of coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina. From the New York Times:

Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility corporation, pleaded guilty on Thursday to criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act for the discharge of coal ash, a potentially toxic waste product, and for a failure to properly maintain equipment at a number of power plants in its home state of North Carolina. The company also agreed to pay $102 million in fines and environmental fees.

Four of the nine criminal violations stemmed from a massive coal-ash spill on Feb. 2, 2014, at the Charlotte-based company’s Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. The spill sent up to 39,000 tons of coal ash and millions of gallons of coal-ash wastewater into the Dan River, spreading 62 miles to the Virginia border, according to court records.

Coal ash, a waste product generated by coal-fired electric power plants, contains a number of materials, including arsenic, chromium and mercury, that can be hazardous to people and wildlife.

I covered today’s press conference via my Ashevegas Twitter feed, where you can often find me breaking news. Some highlights:

Press conference set to begin regarding Duke Energy’s announcement to retire Asheville power plant.

NC Sen Tom Apodoca is here, as is former U.S. Rep Heath Shuler, who now works for Duke Energy.

Kit Cramer, head of Asheville chamber, Buncombe commissioner chair David Gantt is here.

Plan to close Asheville’s power plant will cost $1.1 billion, create 800 jobs; job will be done by 2019.

NC Tom Apodoca says new power plant will be gas and solar. It will be nice not to look over and see that huge tower, he says.

Apodoca says the new plant will give WNC even cleaner air and boost economic development. “This is huge for Western North Carolina.”

Apodoca gives credit to former legislators Charles Carter, Wilma Sherrill and the late Martin Nesbitt for clean smokestacks law.

Apodoca says bill will be filed Wednesday in NC General Assembly to approve new power plant.

Power demand is up 40 percent in area and will increase by 15 percent in next decade, Duke official says.

Buncombe commissioner David Gantt says today news is biggest environmental news for #Asheville in 20 years.

Gantt calls Duke’s new gas plant the Prius of power plants; smoke stack will come down; hot water into Lake Julian will stop.

Gantt: we are just thrilled with Duke Energy’s decision.

Coal ash clean up is separate project from this new power plant project, Duke spokesman says.

The new solar power aspect of Duke’s power plant replacement will come online after 2020, Duke spokesman says.

Duke spokesman says new natural gas plant is twice as efficient as current plant; Duke has examples in Eastern NC.

Duke Energy spokesman says new plant will bring more reliability.

Duke Energy says new facility will not have significant impact on rate-payers. Project will go before state utility commission.

Duke Energy spokesman says natural gas transmission line construction will be open process; will reach out to public.

Duke Energy spokesman says 90 employees at Asheville plant now; 50 employees for new natural gas plant.

People who near Lake Julian will see reduced visual impact; emissions drop significantly, Duke Energy spokesman says.

Water temperature of Lake Julian will drop significantly.

This is what new Duke Energy natural gas plant will look like.

This part of the current Duke Coal-fired power plant will be torn down.

Riverkeeper Carson (of MountainTrue) says there are environmental impacts associated with natural gas, but it is better than coal.

iverkeeper Hartwell Carson says he wants Duke to incorporate more renewable energy like wind, solar.


Mikey October 14, 2015 - 10:51 pm

no fracking does not cause earthquakes. However, it can rupture pipes causing citizens water supply to become toxic for drinking…

Barry Summers May 20, 2015 - 11:15 am

Ah, and then there’s this:

“Duke Energy spokesman says natural gas transmission line construction will be open process; will reach out to public.”

What could go wrong? (drag & drop this link)

Mike May 20, 2015 - 10:19 am

I guess Coals cost/benefit is running out…..

Matt May 19, 2015 - 10:46 pm

This is good news.
There are a lot of numbers out there that demonstrate that even though natural gas is really bad, coal is that much worse.

I wonder how much of their expected 650 megawatts will come from the solar farm. The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in California produces 550 megawatts, but uses 3,500 acres.

Sean Lally May 19, 2015 - 9:09 pm

Seems like good news to me with at least some solar.

Jess December 8, 2015 - 6:19 am

In April 2011 study conducted by Cornell University found that methane emissions linked to fracked natural gas are at least 30 percent higher than the emissions linked to conventional has… and methane is an extraordinarily dangerous greenhouse gas, thirty-four times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide

Tim Peck May 19, 2015 - 6:58 pm

This is fracking awesome.

This is a good business decision by Duke. Natural gas is cheaper. It doesn’t matter that it’s cleaner.

Remember when we were supposed to all, like, anti-fracking?

Deb May 19, 2015 - 5:45 pm

Frying pan to fire. What’s next, frack-quakes?

Tim Peck May 22, 2015 - 4:46 pm

Fracking does not cause earthquakes.

Barry Summers May 19, 2015 - 4:03 pm

Great. Locked in fossil fuel hell for another couple of generations. When will we learn?

Dustin May 19, 2015 - 3:53 pm

Thank goodness for fracking. It allows us to close our evil coal power plants!

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