Southeast Coal Roundup – Duke and Other Southeast Utilities

Guest Blog | September 25, 2013 | Coal, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Utilities

Across our region, utilities are announcing idling or retirement of their older, uncontrolled coal units and embracing futures with less coal and more renewables in their long term generation planning.  First we brought you the story of coal’s decline in the TVA service territory.  Last week we followed up with a look at the future of Southern Company’s coal fleet.  In this week’s roundup, we finish out our blog series with a look at Duke Energy and a few other smaller Southeastern utilities’ coal fleets and learn more about how they too are phasing out old, dirty coal plants.


Along with the expedited retirements of the Riverbend and Buck coal plants in North Carolina, there are numerous coal plant retirements planned in the Tar Heel state.  As we reported in our 2010 coal retirement update, retirements were announced at Progress Energy’s Weatherspoon, Cape Fear, Sutton and Lee plants and Duke’s Cliffside, Dan River and Buck plants.

Duke's (retired) Cape Fear Plant

Since these announcements, Weatherspoon and Cape Fear plants were fully retired in October 2011 and the Lee plant was retired in September 2012 – each of these plants was operational for over 60 years.  The Sutton plant, in Wilmington, is slated to retire in 2013 when a new 625 MW combined-cycle natural gas plant begins operations.  The Cliffside plant, located on the Rutherford/Cleveland county line, retired 4 of its oldest units in October 2011.

Unfortunately, Duke has moved ahead with Cliffside Unit 6, its new coal-fired generator that began commercial operation on Dec. 30, 2012.  According to data in EPA’s Air Markets Program Database, Unit 6 emitted 165,484 tons of CO2 in 2012 despite only being operational for one day.  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!).  Dan River was retired in 2012 and replaced with a 620 MW combined cycle natural gas plant, which began operations in April 2013.

Recently, there has been a strong movement opposing the continued operation of Duke’s Asheville coal plant (376 MW) in Asheville, North Carolina.  Sierra Club’s Asheville Beyond Coal Campaign has been working to highlight the significant impact the plant has on public health as well as the fact that the plant represents Western North Carolina’s single largest source of carbon dioxide.  The Asheville campaign is a unique effort in that it targets a plant that is updated with modern pollution controls.  Upgraded facilities are typically more valuable to the parent utility as they have invested significantly in these plants and are likely to plan to keep them alive longer than non-retrofitted plants.

Although North Carolina has seen a historic reduction in coal reliance, old coal plants, like Duke’s G. G. Allen steam plant  still continue to operate and degrade the surrounding air and water quality.  Moving Duke completely beyond coal would not only remove a significant amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but would also reduce the amount of coal ash stored in and around North Carolina waterways.  Duke is already under fire for its handling of coal ash and is in the midst of numerous lawsuits from state regulators as well as environmental groups and citizens.  We will continue to work to push Duke to continue the transition away from coal and towards cleaner forms of electric generation, like wind and solar.


SCE&G's Canadys Station Coal Plant

Just this June, South Carolina Electric & Gas announced it would be retiring its Canadys Station coal plant at the end of 2013, far ahead of schedule.  One of the three coal-fired units at Canadys Station was retired in late 2012 and originally SCE&G had planned to convert the remaining two units to natural gas before fully retiring them in 2017.  Thankfully, after reevaluating system needs and economic considerations, SCE&G decided to expedite full retirement of the plant. Additionally, the McMeekin plant in Columbia and the Urquhart plant near Aiken are on schedule to retire at the end of 2018.


Santee Cooper's (retired) Grainger Plant
Santee Cooper’s Grainger coal plant was retired in October 2012 and there is currently an ongoing public debate between the utility, regulators, environmental groups and the public as to what should be done with the remaining coal ash on site.  The Southern Environmental Law Center has brought litigation on behalf of SACE and other local groups alleging significant pollution from the plant’s unlined coal ash ponds.  Recently the judge in the case denied the utility’s request to dismiss the lawsuit and we continue to work towards cleaning up the Grainger site and the surrounding environment.


That concludes our Southeast Coal Retirement Roundup blog series and we hope you enjoyed learning more about the state of coal-fired power across the Southeast.  With more coal units retiring, Southeastern utilities are relying more on natural gas fired generation resources to keep up with demand.  For many Southeastern utilities, however, demand on the whole has been down due to the recession and milder weather.  Utilities are also increasing reliance on energy efficiency measures to save on the cost of having to undertake expensive capital investments in generation resources and pass those costs onto ratepayers.  As we continue to work to convince utilities to internalize the external costs of coal and move away from dirty forms of generation, we look forward to having another round of coal plant retirements to report in 2014.  Here’s to cleaner air, water, and making a big dent in the climate challenge for years to come!

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