As we move into 2016, we continue our look back at where our Southeastern utilities are in their movement away from coal-fired power. This blog will focus on Duke Energy’s coal-plant operations in the Carolinas and Florida before we finish up the series next week with a look at coal plants owned by smaller Southeastern utilities. (Follow these links for our 2015 TVA Roundup blog and our 2015 Southern Company Roundup blog).
Although Duke Energy operates coal-fired power plants outside of the Southeast, for the purposes of this blog, we will focus on those plants that are located in our region. Duke Energy owns coal plants in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. As reported in our 2013 edition of this blog, Duke was one of the earliest utilities in our region to begin reducing its reliance on coal-fired power, beginning with the retirements in 2011 of Units 1-4 (210 MW) at its Cliffside Steam Station, all three units at its Weatherspoon plant (171 MW) and the last two coal units at its Cape Fear plant (316 MW).
Coal Ash Disaster and Clean Up
In 2012, Duke continued to decrease its reliance on dirty, coal-fired power – retiring its Robinson coal plant (2o7 MW) in South Carolina and its Dan River (290 MW) and H.F. Lee plants (150 MW) in North Carolina. Although the Dan River plant, located in Rockingham County, NC, was retired in 2012, that didn’t stop it from dominating headlines more recently. In February 2014, the Dan River plant leaked nearly 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Dan River.
This disaster caused outrage in the community and eventually led to Duke’s July 2015 decision to clean up coal ash impoundments at a number of its North Carolina plants. That process has not been a smooth one, however, and activists continue to push for Duke to address its fleet-wide coal ash storage issues in hopes of preventing another disaster like Dan River.
It is important for Duke to handle its legacy coal ash issues responsibly and safely, especially as it continues to retire coal plants and announce future coal retirement timelines. Duke retired its Sutton Plant (672 MW), Buck Steam Station (370 MW) and Riverbend Steam Station (466 MW), all located in North Carolina, in 2013. Duke’s last operating coal plant in South Carolina, the W.S. Lee Steam Station (355 MW), was retired in 2014.
Duke’s Asheville plant was recently the subject of some controversy, when the utility announced it would close the coal plant and construct new natural gas burning facilities on site, and build a new transmission line to transport power. The transmission line was bitterly opposed by landowners and activists, resulting in Duke’s decision to scale back the size of the new natural gas units so that the new transmission line would not be necessary. The two Asheville coal units (414 MW) will be retired by 2020 and replaced with a new natural gas unit as well as a utility-scale solar farm. Additionally, Duke has indicated it will retire Units 1 and 2 (964 MW) at its Crystal River plant in Florida between now and 2018, but will continue operating the two remaining units (1478 MW) at the plant.
Per a recent settlement with EPA and environmental advocates, Duke must also retire Units 1-3 (605 MW) at its GG Allen plant by 2024, but advocates are working to speed up that timeline. Units 4 and 5 at the plant (500 MW) were not subject to the EPA settlement and currently are not planned for retirement, even though they are over 55 years old and infrequently used. The utility will also continue to operate its Marshall (1,996 MW), Mayo (736 MW) and Roxboro (2,558 MW) coal plants into the foreseeable future, all of which are located in North Carolina.
New Coal Plant Venture
Although Duke was one of the earliest utilities to begin retiring coal plants, it also the owns the newest coal plant in our region – Unit 6 (825 MW) at the former Cliffside Steam Station site, now known as the Rogers Energy Complex. The site is named after former Duke CEO Jim Rogers, who was responsible for a decision to retire 1,000 MW of older, higher emitting coal units across the Duke Energy Carolinas fleet. Construction of this unit began in 2008 and commercial operation began in 2012, with a total project cost of $1.8 billion. Notably, Unit 6 was one the first units operating under an air permit that included a carbon mitigation plan and is also controlled with the full suite of modern air pollution controls. However, Unit 6 is projected to emit over 6 million tons of CO2 annually now that it is fully operational (312 million tons of CO2 over a 50-year lifespan!).
We will continue to work with allies to decrease our region’s reliance on coal by continuing to educate utilities about the cost-saving benefits and environmental benefits of energy efficiency, wind and solar power. The Clean Power Plan will offer more opportunities for us to advocate to states and utilities that clean energy resources the best way forward for our economy, our health and our future. Stay tuned for the final installment in our virtual coal roundup and thank you for your continued support in our work!