Cliffside Plant

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The Cliffside Plant (also known as the James E. Rogers Energy Complex) is a 1,481-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant located in Cliffside, North Carolina. A new unit 6 began operating in December 2012, operated by Duke Energy.


The undated satellite photo below shows the power station in Cliffside.

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Original plant

The Cliffside Steam Station began commercial operation in 1940. That first 38-MW unit, along with units 2, 3 and 4 – a total of 198 MW – were retired on October 1, 2011. Unit 5 began operation in 1972 and has been retrofitted with pollution controls. A Unit 6 was added in 2012.[1]

Background on expansion

The Duke Energy Cliffside plant has been one of the most controversial in the nation. Although Duke Energy chairman Jim Rogers is an active proponent of legislation to address global warming, Duke continues to pursue development of new coal power plants.[2]

Duke Energy originally proposed two new 800 MW units at its Cliffside plant in North Carolina. In February 2007, the North Carolina Utilities Commission approved one unit and rejected the other [3]; in June 2007, the commission denied a request for reconsideration of this decision.

On March 13, 2009, the North Carolina Division of Air Quality issued a new construction permit, claiming that the new unit will be a 'minor source' of hazardous air pollutants. In late April 2009, the US EPA sent a letter to state regulators questioning the agency's decision to treat the new unit as a minor source of hazardous air pollutants.[4]

On May 5, 2009, NC WARN filed a motion with the North Carolina Utilities Commission to revoke Duke's certificate of public convenience and necessity because the new unit is no longer in the public interest.[5]

Criticism by National Park Service and EPA

In Dec. 2007, representatives of the National Park Service and the U.S. EPA warned that state environmental regulators were approving the project too quickly and with too little oversight.[6]

EPA ruling on carbon dioxide emissions

In a landmark decision on November 13, 2008, the US EPA's Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) ruled that the EPA has no valid reason for failing to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new coal-fired power plants.[7] The lawsuit was brought by The Sierra Club in October 2007 to challenge the permitting of the Bonanza Power Plant addition, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In its decision, the EAB sided with the Sierra Club, declaring that because the Supreme Court ruling defined carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, new coal-fired power plants must implement "Best Available Control Technology" (BACT) for CO2. Environmentalists and lawyers representing industry groups claim the ruling will have a national effect and may stop the permitting of numerous coal plants.[8]

In North Carolina, environmentalists quickly jumped on the ruling, hoping it will help in the long-running legal fight to stop the Cliffside plant. John Runkle, an attorney for one of the groups opposing the plant, commented, "The weight against building new coal plants is growing. This certainly will help us." Attorneys filed a new motion on November 14. Administrative Law Judge Randall May heard testimony in the case on November 17.[9]

Air permit revoked over mercury emissions

In December 2008, a ruling by a federal judge in Asheville, N.C. revoked the Cliffside plant's air quality permit because it does not meet Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT) regulations for mercury. An earlier ruling by a D.C. circuit court found that the EPA’s 2005 mercury rule was illegal because it evaded mandatory cuts in toxic mercury pollution. Duke Energy has 70 days to update the plant's technology to comply with the MACT. If Duke misses the deadline, the court has the ability to halt plant construction.[10]

Final air control permits were approved on March 13, 2009.[11]

Duke proposes rate increase to cover costs of expanding Cliffside plant

In September 2009, the North Carolina Utilities Commission held a public hearing on Duke's proposed rate increase of 12.6 percent for its North Carolina customers. Duke says the increases are necessary to recoup $4.8 billion in capital spending, which includes the amount spent to date on the Cliffside expansion. The utility commission's Public Staff, which represents utility customers, is opposed to the increase, describing it as unjustified. About two dozen people spoke at the hearing, most of whom were residents opposed to the rate hike and to the new plant. The commission is scheduled to begin hearing expert testimony on Duke's rate hike request ion October 19.[12]

Request for injunction denied

On November 4, 2009, the N.C. Utilities Commission refused a request by the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network to stop the expansion of Duke’s proposed Cliffside coal power plant. N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network asked the commission to revoke its 2007 approval of the plant because the expansion is no longer needed, and that Duke is building the proposed plant not to meet the electricity demands of state customers, but for potential sales of wholesale power. The commission denied the request, stating that the circumstances under which it had originally approved the plant had not changed since 2007.[13]

Stricter pollution controls

On December 8, 2010, the administrative law judge in the Sierra Club’s contested case appeal of the Cliffside air permits issued an order on the cross-motions for summary judgment that had been pending. While the judge granted Duke and the agency’s motions to dismiss on several issues, he declined to dismiss a number of claims, including whether the new Cliffside unit is a “minor source” of hazardous air pollution and whether the agency’s use of coarse particle pollution (PM10) as a surrogate for fine particles (PM2.5) was unlawful, among others. No date was set for a trial on the remaining issues.

In April 2011, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed affirmed district Judge Thornburg’s determination that Duke was subject to CAA section 112 for its construction of Unit 6, even though it obtained its permit and commenced construction under the Clean Air Mercury Rule. As a result, if it is determined that Unit 6 is a major hazardous air pollution source, it should be subject to the stronger new source MACT standards rather than the existing source standards under EPA’s recent proposal. The decision also specifically upholds the district court’s award of attorney’s fees and costs of over $470,000.[14]

Direct Action Protests

The two polar bears, immediately after their arrest for blockading the Duke Energy headquarters in Charlotte, NC, on Nov. 15, 2007.

Nov. 15, 2007: Student blockade of Duke Energy headquarters

On November 15, 2007, two Warren Wilson College students dressed as polar bears chained themselves to the door of Duke Energy's headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, in protest of the Cliffside Plant. Several dozen people held a rally in support of their blockade, dressing as Santa Claus and elves and presenting a stocking full of coal to the company. The two students were arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct.[15][16][17]

April 1, 2008: Rising Tide/Earth First! occupation of Cliffside construction site

On April 1, 2008, as part of the Fossil Fools International Day of Action, a group of North Carolina activists with Rising Tide and Earth First! locked themselves to bulldozers to prevent the construction of the Cliffside coal-fired power plant proposed by Duke in western North Carolina. Others roped off the site with "Global Warming Crime Scene" tape, and held banners protesting the construction of the plant. Police used pain compliance holds and tasers to force the activists to unlock themselves from the construction equipment. Eight people were arrested.[18][19]

April 20, 2009: Hundreds protest in Charlotte, N.C. against Duke's proposed Cliffside plant

Hundreds of people marched and rallied against Cliffside in Charlotte, N.C. The demonstration was organized by more than a dozen environmental, faith-based, and social justice groups, which are calling on Duke Energy and the state of North Carolina to cancel construction of the Cliffside plant. 44 activists were arrested.[20]

To see video of this protest, see Stop Cliffside

May 7, 2009: Activists protest Cliffside Plant at Duke Energy shareholder meeting in Charlotte, NC

Activists dominated Duke Energy's annual shareholder meeting in Charlotte, NC. About 25 protesters gathered outside the company's headquarters, calling for Duke to cancel its proposed Cliffside plant. Inside the meeting, activists who own shares of the company grilled CEO Jim Rogers about the company's coal and nuclear investments.[21]

November 30, 2009: Activists block delivery of generator to Cliffside in Greenville, SC

Two protesters locked themselves to a 1.5 million pound generator being delivered to Cliffside. The activists vowed to prevent the generator from reaching the Duke Energy plant. Protesters also displayed a large banner reading "Stop Cliffside" from the top of the generator. More than 20 activists attended the protest; four were arrested. The action was organized by Asheville Rising Tide and Croatan Earth First! as part of a national day of action with dozens of protests planned around the U.S.[22]

Project Details of Expansion

Sponsor: Duke Energy
Location: Cliffside, NC
Coordinates: 35.217222, -81.761111
Type: Conventional Pulverized
Capacity: 571 MW (Unit 5), 910 MW (Unit 6)[23]
In service: 1972 (Unit 5), 2012 (Unit 6)
Status: One unit rejected; one operating (Unit 6)


Citizen Groups



  1. "Cliffside Steam Station," Duke Energy, accessed Feb 2015
  2. "Cliffside, Coal and Global Warming", North Carolina Sierra Club, undated, accessed January 2008.
  3. Duke Energy's Cliffside Power Plant, NC Warn, undated, accessed January 2008.
  4. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed May 2009. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)
  5. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed May 2009. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)
  6. "Smokies Power Plant Decried", The News & Observer, December 15, 2007.
  7. "Ruling: Coal Plants Must Limit C02," Sierra Club, November 13, 2008.
  8. "A Freeze on New U.S. Coal Plants?", Brian Walsh, Time, November 13, 2008.
  9. Mitch Weiss,"Environmentalists try to stop NC coal-fired plant," Forbes, November 18, 2008.
  10. "Coal plant setback in NC!", It's Getting Hot in Here, December 3, 2008.
  11. "Cliffside" Sierra Club, accessed June 16, 2014.
  12. Bruce Henderson, "Speakers oppose rate hike, coal-fired plant," Charlotte Observer, September 10, 2009.
  13. "Stopping the Coal Rush" Sierra Club, accessed November 2011.
  14. "Stopping the Coal Rush" Sierra Club, accessed November 2011.
  15. Students Chain Selves to Duke, Raleigh News & Observer, November 16, 2007.
  16. Direct Action at Duke Energy Over Proposed Coal Expansion, It's Getting Hot In Here blog, November 15, 2007.
  17. “Duke Energy Headquarters Blockaded in Opposition to New Coal Plant", Infoshop News, November 17, 2007.
  18. "Eight Climate Protesters Arrested at U.S. Coal Plant", Reuters, April 1, 2008.
  19. "Eight Arrested as North Carolina Residents Shut Down Construction at Cliffside Coal Plant", Fossil Fools Day blog, April 1, 2008.
  20. "Hundreds March and 44 Arrested to Stop Cliffside Power Plant," Power Past Coal, April 21, 2009.
  21. "Coal debate highlights Duke meeting," Triangle Business Journal, May 8, 2009.
  22. "Citizens Block Shipment fo Generator to Cliffside Coal Plant," Rising Tide North America, November 30, 2009.
  23. Form EIA-860, US Energy Information Administration, 2012

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