Duke to pursue single coal plant

Duke to pursue single coal plant

Duke Energy Corp. plans to move ahead with a controversial coal-fired power project in the Blue Ridge foothills, Chief Executive Jim Rogers said Thursday after the annual shareholders meeting.

After nearly two years of debate, the N.C. Utilities Commission in February approved only one of the proposed two units for Duke’s Cliffside facility, about an hour’s drive west from Charlotte. Rogers hadn’t said until Thursday that the company planned to build the single unit.

The project still needs a permit from the N.C. Division of Air Quality, a process that requires a public hearing and could take months. The agency hasn’t scheduled the hearing and said it is waiting for Duke to file a revised draft permit for one unit.

“They would have to block us,” Rogers said of his intent to move forward.

To meet demand as its customer base grows in the Carolinas, the company also plans to build two natural-gas-fired plants at its Dan River or Buck facilities, in Rockingham and Rowan counties, respectively, Rogers said after the shareholders meeting.

The coal and gas plants would add more than 2,100 megawatts of power generation over the next five years that Duke says it needs.

Separately, Duke filed an ambitious blueprint this week for shaving 1,700 megawatts of customer demand in four years through promoting energy efficient light bulbs and programs that cycle off some appliances when they are not being used.

The Charlotte company’s original plan to build the two 800-megawatt coal-fired power units was vehemently opposed by environmental groups. Burning coal releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide, which is blamed in large part for Earth’s rising average temperatures over the past century.

Duke is the nation’s third-largest consumer of coal. Rogers said the company emits about 50 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. The Charlotte-based company has 3.9 million customers spread over five states. In the Carolinas, Duke depends on coal for 52 percent of power generation for its 2.3 million customers.

The project could cost $2 billion or more, including the cost of financing. As part of the project, the company plans to retire four 1940s-era coal-fired units there. Duke said it would provide the commission with an updated cost estimate by May 31 and wants the unit up and running by 2011.

The Cliffside plant straddles the Cleveland and Rutherford county line. The area, which struggled this decade with massive job losses but is making a comeback, is eager for the construction jobs.

The counties share property taxes from the plant. Duke said it hasn’t decided in which county the single unit will be built. Duke CEO Jim Rogers said Thursday he’ll scrap plans to build two 1,100-megawatt nuclear reactors if the N.C. General Assembly doesn’t pass a law allowing the company to recoup financing costs earlier than usual from the $6 billion project. Current law allows utilities to recoup costs through higher rates only after a plant is completed.

Information from: www.charlotte.com

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