North Carolina and coal

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Coal-fired power plants produce about 62 percent of the electricity generated in North Carolina. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projects this amount to be 67 percent by 2010.[1]

North Carolina produces a disproportionately large amount of carbon dioxide, in large part because of the state’s numerous coal plants, and ranks 14th in the nation in CO2 emissions. The state produces 77 million tons of CO2 every year, an amount only slightly less than California’s 79 million tons, despite the fact that North Carolina’s population is one quarter the size of California.[2]

North Carolina-based Duke Energy is planning an 800MW expansion at its Cliffside plant that would emit an additional 6.25 million tons of CO2 per year. Duke Energy is the nation’s third largest producer of carbon dioxide, emitting 108 million tons of CO2 per year, despite CEO Jim Rogers’ public calls for federal legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Duke’s eight plants in North Carolina produce 41 million tons of CO2 each year, more than half of the state’s total yearly carbon dioxide emissions.[2]

In May 2010 the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report titled, Burning Coal, Burning Cash: Ranking the States that Import the Most Coal. In the paper the group reported that North Carolina was the second most coal dependent state in the country, spending $2.3 billion on coal imports in 2008.[3]

Coal resources

North Carolina has no active coal mines, so all coal is imported from out of state.[4] The only place in the state known to contain potentially useful coal beds is the Deep River coal field in Chatham County. The coal beds cover an area approximately 35 miles long and 5 to 10 miles wide and are estimated to contain over 110 million tons of coal, but the topography and geology of the area make retrieval difficult.[5]

Historically the Deep River coal field was mined beginning in 1852 at the Egypt Mine, and expanding in the late 1860s as a result of the Civil War. In 1925 a series of explosions killed 53 workers at the Coal Glen mine, in what remains North Carolina’s worst workplace accident.[5] The accident led to the passage of North Carolina's Workers' Compensation Act in 1929. Coal production ceased in 1953, in part because the coal seam is too deeply buried and broken by multiple faults, making retrieval both difficult and expensive.[5]

Citizen activism

Apr. 13, 2007: Blockade of Asheville Merrill Lynch

On April 13, 2007, two people calling themselves members of the "Climate Justice League" entered a Merrill Lynch building in Asheville, North Carolina, dumped a sack of coal in the lobby, and used a bicycle lock to blockade the door. The activists demanded that Merrill Lynch stop funding mountaintop removal coal mining companies such as Massey Energy. No arrests were reported.[6]

SCAN activists occupy a Bank of America branch in Asheville, NC, on Aug. 13, 2007.

Aug. 13, 2007: Southeast Convergence for Climate Action occupation of Asheville Bank of America

On August 13, 2007, 150 activists occupied a Bank of America branch in Asheville, North Carolina. The protestors condemned Bank of America's ongoing funding of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. Two people locked themselves to the main lobby, while others blockaded the entrance to the branch, and delivered coal to the bank's managers. Five people were arrested.[7]

October 23, 2007: Rainforest Action Network banner hang at Bank of America corporate headquarters in Charlotte, NC

On October 23, four activists with Rainforest Action Network, scaled a 15-story crane across the street from Bank of America's corporate headquarters in downtown Charlotte. Reading "Bank of America:Funding Coal, Killing Communities," the action was a protest against the bank's funding of mountaintop removal and new coal plant development. The banner hang disrupted traffic for several blocks until police and firefighters brought down the activists. All four were arrested.

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 Duke's plans to build the Cliffside coal-fired power plant in western North Carolina. 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.[8]

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

On April 1, 2008, a group of North Carolina activists locked themselves to bulldozers to protest the construction of the Cliffside coal-fired power plant 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.[9]


June 26, 2008: Activists Demonstrate Outside Bank of America Headquarters

On June 26, 2008, activists from Rainforest Action Network demonstrated outside Bank of America's Charlotte headquarters, carrying a banner that read "Divest from Coal!" The group distributed fliers on the bank's investments in the coal industry to employees and local residents. Police were on hand, but no one was arrested.[11]

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

Two protesters locked themselves to a 1.5 million pound generator being delivered to the Cliffside Plant in North Carolina. 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.[12]

May 5, 2011: Duke Energy shareholder meeting faces protests in Charlotte, NC

About 50 demonstrators from N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network protested Duke Energy continued use of mountaintop removal coal at the company's shareholders meeting. The protests included street theater of a state "legislator" taking money from utility customers in chains. Another group of conservative protesters waved "Fire Jim Rogers" signs in opposition to the Duke CEO's attempt to bring the Democratic National Convention to Charlotte in 2012. Rogers later said that Duke had also tried to bring Republican conventions to the city. [13]

Sept. 15, 2011: UNC students begin divestment campaign

Along with a handful of other campuses, the University of North Carolina is starting a nationwide movement to get university endowments to divest from the coal industry. We've identified the "Filthy 15" - the worst coal mining and coal burning companies in the country. "We want UNC to come clean about its $2 billion endowment and its energy holdings and pass a divestment resolution," the group said. "We want those funds reinvested in the clean energy economy." [14]

Sept. 24, 2011: Greenpeace holds Charlotte protest

Two dozen members of Greenpeace Charlotte stages a protest on the national day of action, calling for Duke Energy to transition to clean energy. Protestors said coal causes asthma, autism and lung cancer. [15]

Oct. 20, 2011: UNC Wilmington Students "dying" for clean air

University of North Carolina Wilmington students staged a protest to emphasize that they are "dying" for clean energy. Wearing surgical masks, volunteers dropped "dead" on Chancellor’s Walk for the event to show that clean air is essential to the future. Friends outlined their bodies in chalk. [16]

Nov. 15, 2011 Bank of America protests, Charlotte

Chanting "Bank of America, Bank of Coal," eight protesters affiliated with the Rainforest Action Network were arrested outside the bank's corporate headquarters in Charlotte. According to RAN, the bank has financed $4.3 billion in coal projects over the past two years. [17]

May 3, 2012: Activists block shipment of mountaintop removal coal

Activists block tracks bringing mountaintop removal coal to Marshall Steam Plant.

On May 3, activists protested mountaintop removal mining by locking themselves to train tracks, preventing coal train loads from entering Duke Energy's Marshall Steam Station in North Carolina. The activists, affiliated with RAMPS, Katuah Earth First!, Greenpeace and Mountain Keepers said they would not leave until Duke agreed to end its use of mountaintop removal coal operations. The power burned in Marshall is used to power Apple's iCloud data center.[18] Four activists handcuffed themselves to tracks, while others draped banners with Apple's logo on freight cars.[19] Four activists handcuffed themselves to tracks, while others draped banners with Apple's logo on freight cars.[20]

Legislative issues

On May 27, 2008, North Carolina State Representative Pricey Harrison introduced House Bill H2709 into the North Carolina General Assembly. The bill seeks to outlaw the use of coal extracted from mountaintop removal mines from being burned in North Carolina coal fired power plants.[21]

On February 26, 2009, State Representative Pricey Harrison re-introduced the Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act, along with 26 original co-signers, into the North Carolina State House. State Senator Steve Goss (D-45) introduced a companion bill in the Senate. [22]

On July 31, 2009, Governor Perdue signed Senate Bill 1004, which increases the safety oversight of coal ash ponds in North Carolina. The legislation requires that the dams enclosing coal ash ponds be inspected every two years by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The bill was sponsored by State Sen. David Hoyle (D-Guilford) and Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford).[23]

Federal Efficiency Legislation

Coal Ash in North Carolina


North Carolina generates over 5.5 million tons of ash per year, ranking 9th in the nation for coal ash generation.

There are 26 ponds at 14 plants, and two retired ponds at the Cliffside Plant in Mooresboro.

Twelve ponds in North Carolina have been rated “high hazard”, and six have been rated as “significant hazard” by EPA. A significant hazard ranking indicates that a failure at the pond can cause economic loss, environmental damage, or damage to infrastructure. If high hazard ponds fail, they will probably cause a loss of human life.

Fourteen ponds are over 30 years old. Their age makes it unlikely that they have safeguards like liners and leachate collection systems. In fact, a 2007 EPA risk assessment notes 16 ponds and landfills are unlined, and one is clay-lined. Of these sites, 15 do not have a leachate groundwater collection system and nine do not have any groundwater monitoring. (This is not an exhaustive list; others are likely to exist.) [24]


Ash ponds constructed before 1994 (at least 22 of North Carolina’s 26 ash ponds) are not required to have caps, liners, or conduct groundwater monitoring. Until 2009, ash pond dams were also exempted from any dam safety inspection under the North Carolina Dam Safety Act of 1967. Monitoring at coal ash landfills is discretionary, not mandatory, and landfills are not required to conduct on‐site groundwater monitoring after closure.

The 2011 report, "State of Failure: How
 Ash" by Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, looked at EPA data and found that state regulations are often inadequate for protecting public health. North Carolina has enough coal ash to flood an area the size of the UNC Raleigh campus 32 feet high, yet does not require groundwater monitoring of the sites.[25]

Following the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill in Tennessee, N.C. state Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) introduced H1354 in 2009, to change the way coal ash is regulated in the state, including creation of a permitting system for coal ash structural fills. However, the final version of the legislation that passed the General Assembly had the structural fill provision stripped out. Instead, the measure subjected the state's coal ash impoundments to dam safety rules, an approach aimed at preventing catastrophes like Kingston but that does not address environmental contamination from ash fills.[26]

In 2009, state regulators visited 48 coal ash sites, and found violations at 28 of them, ranging from water contamination to a lack of cover that could stop coal ash from escaping fill sites. Regardless, Gov. Perdue, the departments of Transportation and Commerce, and the state's Utility Commission are all on record opposing federal regulation of coal ash as hazardous waste.[26]

According to the 2010 report "Unlined Landfills?: The Story of Coal Ash Waste in our Backyard" by the Sierra Club North Carolina, companies using dry coal ash as fill - for publicly used land and even farmland for growing food crops - are supposed to record the presence of the ash on the property deed under North Carolina law (a provision fought by Duke Energy), yet only 56 percent of such uses complied with this requirement. State officials aren't required to do their own tests of coal ash fill to see if it has potentially dangerous levels of arsenic and other contaminants. It is left up to the companies, and there are no rules to check the accuracy of what the companies report. Further, no advance permits are required for fills, and while the state can comment on a company's coal ash fill plans, it does not have the power to deny them.[27]

In response, the report advocates: 1) discontinuing the practice of allowing coal ash to be used for land development and instead dispose of it in landfills that comply with state regulations requiring liners and other precautions to prevent pollutants from leaching into ground or surface water; 2) publicly available groundwater monitoring at existing active structural fill sites for at least 30 years after a structural fill is closed; 3) requiring cleanup by developers if monitoring data reveal that groundwater or surface water has been contaminated by coal ash; 4) identifying a funding source to enable adequate regulatory oversight and enforcement of closed sites; and 5) requiring that the use of coal ash as structural fill be permanently recorded on the deed for the affected property.[27]

EPA releases list of 44 "high hazard" coal ash dumps

In response to demands from environmentalists as well as Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, the EPA made public a list of 44 "high hazard potential" coal waste dumps. The rating applies to sites at which a dam failure would most likely cause loss of human life, but does not include an assessment of the likelihood of such an event. North Carolina has 12 of the sites, more than any other state. 10 of the sites belong to Duke Energy.[28]

The following table is derived from EPA's official list of Coal Combustion Residue (CCR) Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings. To see the full list of sites, see Coal waste.[29]

Company Facility Name Unit Name Location
Duke Energy G.G. Allen Steam Plant Active Ash Pond Belmont, NC
Duke Energy Belews Creek Steam Station Active Ash Pond Walnut Cove, NC
Duke Energy Buck Steam Station New Primary Pond Spencer, NC
Duke Energy Buck Steam Station Secondary Pond Spencer, NC
Duke Energy Buck Steam Station Primary Pond Spencer, NC
Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station Secondary Pond Eden, NC
Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station Primary Pond Eden, NC
Duke Energy Marshall Steam Station Active Ash Pond Terrell, NC
Duke Energy Riverbend Steam Station Secondary Pond Mount Holly, NC
Duke Energy Riverbend Steam Station Primary Pond Mount Holly, NC
Progress Energy Carolinas Inc Asheville Plant 1982 Pond Arden, NC
Progress Energy Carolinas Inc Asheville Plant 1964 Pond Arden, NC

Study shows all coal ash ponds in N.C. are contaminating groundwater

In October 2009, Appalachian Voices released an analysis of monitoring data from coal waste ponds at 13 coal plants in N.C. The study revealed that all of them are contaminating ground water with toxic pollutants, in some cases with over 350 times the allowable levels according to state standards. The contaminants include the toxic metals arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and lead, which can cause cancer and neurological disorders. The study was based on data submitted by Duke Energy and Progress Energy to state regulators. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources is attempting to confirm the results before determining whether current state law can mandate corrective action.[30]

Researchers in North Carolina have also found that solid waste facilities were 2.8 times more likely to be located in communities with 50 percent or more non-white residents, versus communities with less than 10 percent of residents being people of color, and are negatively impacting the health of these communities, raising issues around environmental justice and coal.[31]

Coal Ash Waste and Water Contamination

In August 2010 a study released by the Environmental Integrity Project, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice reported that North Carolina, along with 34 states, had significant groundwater contamination from coal ash that is not currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report, in an attempt to pressure the EPA to regulate coal ash, noted that most states do not monitor drinking water contamination levels near waste disposal sites.[32] The report mentioned North Carolina based Dan River Steam Station as having groundwater contamination due to coal ash waste.[33]

There are 10 documented damage cases: [34]

1. Hyco Lake, Roxboro. Hyco Lake was constructed in 1964 as a cooling water source for the CP&L Roxboro Steam Plant. The lake received discharges from the plant’s ash-settling ponds containing high levels of selenium. The selenium accumulated in the fish in the lake, affecting reproduction and causing declines in fish populations in the late 1970s and 1980s. The NC Department of Health and Human Services issued a fish consumption advisory in 1988.

2. Belews Lake. Impounded in the 1970s as a cooling reservoir. Fly ash produced by the power plant was disposed in a settling basin, which released selenium-laden effluent to the lake. Due to the selenium contamination, 16 of the 20 fish species present in the reservoir were entirely eliminated, including all the primary sport fish. Selenium discharge from the plant and fish impacts persisted from 1974 to 1985. In 1985, under a mandate from NC, the plant stopped the discharge. Bioaccumulation of Se has been found in birds visiting the lake.

3. Duke Energy G.G. Allen Steam Plant. According to 1985 data, EPA noted exceedances of manganese and iron in wells downstream from the coal ash disposal site.

4. Progress Energy Sutton Steam Plant. Levels of arsenic, boron, manganese, and iron exceed NC groundwater standards underneath the coal ash impoundment. Arsenic concentrations have been measured as high as 29 times the federal drinking water standard.

5. Progress Energy Lee Steam Plant: Levels of arsenic, lead, boron, manganese and iron exceed NC groundwater standards onsite. Arsenic concentrations have been measured as high as 44 times the federal drinking water standard.

6. Progress Energy Cape Fear Steam Plant: Levels of lead, chromium, boron, iron, manganese and sulfate exceed NC groundwater standards.

7. Progress Energy, Asheville Plant. Levels of chromium, boron, iron, and manganese exceed NC groundwater standards in groundwater underneath and downgradient of the plant’s coal ash impoundment. Airborne ash, containing arsenic, from the disposal site is a serious problem to the surrounding community.

8. Duke Energy, Belews Creek Steam Station. Leaching coal ash landfills have contaminated underlying groundwater above NC standards with arsenic, cadmium, selenium and nitrate and are polluting surface water.

9. Full Circle Solutions, Inc.’s Swift Creek Structural Fill. Arsenic, barium, lead, mercury and sulfate exceed NC groundwater standards and federal drinking water standards.

10. Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station. Levels of chromium, iron, lead, manganese, silver and sulfate exceed NC groundwater standards and federal drinking water standards.

Coal Ash and Fountain Industrial Park

In 1989, ReUse Technology, a Georgia-based company that handles coal ash produced by utilities, in cooperation with Edgecombe County Development, began using coal ash as landfill at Fountain Industrial Park near the city of Rocky Mount in Edgecombe County, N.C. The ash was from various Cogentrix plants as well as from the coal-fired cogeneration facility at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Following Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the industrial park was turned into a trailer park for about 370 eastern North Carolina families displaced by the disaster, many from Princeville, a historic African-American community. By that time, the soil covering the fill had eroded, leaving coal ash exposed.[26]

Employees of a nearby correctional facility, the organization Black Workers for Justice, and graduate students at the University of North Carolina's School of Public Health, asked the Edgecombe County development officer if a study of the land had been done prior to construction of the trailer park, and found there had been no thorough testing of the site for possible health impacts before the relocation. In response to mounting worries about the site's safety, epidemiologists with the state health department collected samples from the trailer park for testing, comparing the results to EPA's standards for potential health effects. One of the samples exceeded EPA standards for two contaminants, arsenic and chromium. A N.C. Department of Health and Human Services press release, however, said only that the soil samples "showed no significant risk" for the residents, without mentioning the elevated arsenic and chromium levels.[26]

Study finds dangerous level of hexavalent chromium at North Carolina coal ash sites

A report released by EarthJustice and the Sierra Club in early February 2011 stated that there are many health threats associated with a toxic cancer-causing chemical found in coal ash waste called hexavalent chromium. The report specifically cited 29 sites in 17 states where the contamination was found. The information was gathered from existing EPA data on coal ash and included locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virgina and Wisconsin. In North Carolina, the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, the Asheville Plant in Asheville and the Cape Fear Steam Plant in Montcure all were reported as having high levels of chromium seeping into groundwater.[35]

According to the report, the electric power industry is the leading source of chromium and chromium compounds released into the environment, representing 24 percent of releases by all industries in 2009.[35]

As a press release about the report read:

Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites across the U.S. This is likely the tip of the iceberg because most coal ash dump sites are not adequately monitored.[36]

Water use from coal

A 2011 Union of Concerned Scientists report, "Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource," calculated the available water in every major watershed in the U.S. and measured that against the water used by power plants in each watershed. The report found that water supply in North Carolina's Upper Catawba and South Fork Catawba is stressed by power plants (coal and nuclear) that together withdraw 1 to 3 trillion gallons of water per year, and consume between 5 and 19 billion gallons. A study by Duke Energy found the Catawba water supply would not meet demand by 2048. The plants on the Catawba also are stressing the river by discharging cooling water at temperatures far too high for fish and wildlife to survive.

Plants in the East generally withdrew more water for each unit of electricity produced than plants in the West, because most have not been fitted with recirculating, dry cooling, or hybrid cooling technologies. Freshwater withdrawal intensity was 41 to 55 times greater in Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, and Missouri than in Utah, Nevada, and California.[37]

Rate increases

Public power debt means 51 NC municipalities are under water

A joint legislative Municipal Power Agency Relief Subcommittee is looking into the refinancing or restructuring of power agencies in 51 NC municipalities. Debt load taken on by the municipal utilities since 1982, mostly to help finance construction of nuclear power plants, has meant that municipal utility assets are worth less than their outstanding debt. [38]Power rates are 20 to 50 percent higher in these municipalities than elsewhere in NC. [39]

Duke proposes rate hike for 2012

On July 1, 2011, Duke proposed a 15 - 19 percent rate increase, to go into effect in February of 2011, to cover costs of the Cliffside coal-fired power plant in North Carolina, along with a new natural gas-fired power plant at the Buck facility in Rowan County, North Carolina, and a new hydroelectric powerhouse at the Bridgewater facility in Burke County, North Carolina. [40] [41]

Many local officials are unhappy with the proposal. For instance, the City Durham NC noted its opposition to the rate increases in comments to the NCUC. "Is a return on investment of 11.3 percent necessary or even appropriate in this economy?" the city asked, referring to Duke's guaranteed 11.3 percent rate of return, which would be an increase from the current 10.7 percent.[42]

Public hearings on the rate hike on October 12 filled hearing rooms around the state. Many people protested the impact of higher rates, while others insisted that Duke wants more money for the wrong reasons: to build nuclear power plants and continue burning fossil fuels. [43] Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Carolinas Clean Air Coalition, and NC WARN were among organizations that have been active in protesting the proposed rate hike. [44] [45]

Duke proposes rate increases to cover higher cost of coal

In March 2009, Duke Energy Carolinas proposed a 5 percent increase on its power charges in North Carolina, to compensate the company for higher coal prices. The fuel-charge increase is separate from an upcoming Duke proposal for a general rate hike. The company estimates that the average customer bill would increase from approximately $87 per month to about $91 per month. Similar increases will be proposed in South Carolina in summer 2009.[46]

Duke proposes rate increases 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 Cliffside plant. The commission is scheduled to begin hearing expert testimony on Duke's rate hike request ion October 19.[47]

On July 1, 2011, Duke proposed a 15 percent rate increase, to go into effect in February of 2011, to cover costs of the Cliffside coal-fired power plant in North Carolina, along with a new natural gas-fired power plant at the Buck facility in Rowan County, North Carolina, and a new hydroelectric powerhouse at the Bridgewater facility in Burke County, North Carolina. [48] [49]

Citizen groups

Coal lobbying groups

Climate skeptic lobbying groups

A 2010 investigation by the Institute for Southern Studies found that North Carolina businessman Art Pope was funneling money to ostensibly nonpartisan nonprofits that use it to run attack ads, primarily directed at NC politicians who have played a key role in addressing climate change in the state. Facing South's analysis of tax return data found that Art Pope's family foundation, the Pope Foundation, had made large contributions to the same network of groups denying climate change as the Koch Brothers from 1997 to 2008 -- more than $24.1 million in all. Many of the funds went to the John Locke Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit think tank based in Raleigh, N.C. that was created in 1990 to promote the idea of limited government. Pope provides 80 percent of the organization's funding -- $16.9 million from 1997 to 2008 -- and sits on its board of directors. The John Locke Foundation has been one of the most outspoken voices of climate denial, particularly in North Carolina - in 2007, North Carolina passed Senate Bill 3 to adopt a minimum requirement for the use of renewable energy sources by investor-owned electric utilities. The bill requires that 12.5 percent of all electricity sold in the state by 2020 must come from renewable sources or improved efficiency. The John Locke Foundation would like to do away with it altogether, according to the group's 2010 climate agenda.[26]

Pope's foundation is also a backer of the Civitas Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and its 501(c)(4) sister group, Civitas Action. Between 2005 and 2009, the Pope Foundation has accounted for about 99 percent of the Civitas Institute's foundation income. Civitas Action spent $5,750 on mailers targeting North Carolina House Speaker Joe Hackney and Senate leader Marc Basnight, Democrats who have been supportive of efforts to address global warming.[26]

Running against 15-term Hackney is Cathy Wright, a nursing instructor who's also worked as a lobbyist for medical groups. Her campaign manager did not respond to Facing South's request for information about her position on climate change. But Wright does say she's a member of the Conservative Womens Forum, which promotes a book calling global warming a "scam" and is critical of clean energy solutions from cap-and trade legislation to wind power to the promotion of compact-fluorescent light bulbs. Additionally, her campaign website links directly to both the John Locke Foundation and the Civitas Institute. Basnight's opponent is Hood Richardson, a retired minerals geologist and commissioner for Beaufort County, N.C. Richardson calls global warming a "problem that has since been debunked as based on faulty science." He also criticizes Basnight for helping create the state climate change commission, saying it will "severely harm businesses" and cites the John Locke Foundation for his assertions.[26]

Power companies

  • Duke Energy
    • Headquarters in Charlotte, NC
    • 3rd biggest coal energy producer in U.S.
    • Controls 68 coal-fired generating stations with 18,579 MW total capacity
    • Active proposals: Cliffside Plant, Edwardsport Plant
  • Progress Energy
    • Headquarters in Raleigh, NC
    • 15th biggest coal energy producer in U.S.
    • Controls 23 coal-fired generating stations with 7925 MW total capacity
  • Cogentrix
    • Headquarters in Charlotte, NC
    • Owned by Goldman Sachs
    • Controls 10 coal-fired generating stations with 574 MW total capacity
  • North Carolina Power, a subsidiary of Dominion

Duke proposes merger with Progress Energy

On January 9, 2011, Duke Energy said it agreed to buy Progress Energy for $13.7 billion in stock, creating the largest U.S. power company if it wins approval from regulators in North and South Carolina. The transaction would create an industry giant with approximately 7.1 million electricity customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, and 57,000 megawatts of generating capacity. State regulators have sought concessions from large power companies planning to merge, such as rate reductions.[50] If the deal is approved by regulators, the combined companies would form the single largest utility in the United States.[51]

In hearings before the NC Utilities Commission in September, 2011, a variety of organizations objected to the merger.[52] The merger would mean "increased emissions from coal-fired generation" with an increase of 9.5 million MWH of coal-fired generation over the first five years after the merger, according to testimony on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, the SC Coastal Conservation League, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. The merger as currently structured would also result in the creation of a dominant procurer of renewable energy that would limit the pool of renewable energy developers. [53]

Existing coal plants

North Carolina has 67 operating coal-fired power units at 25 locations totaling 13,279 megawatts (MW).[54]

The following 15 power plants are 240 MW or larger.[55]

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Proposed coal plants

Proposed coal unit retirements

Progress Energy to shut coal plants

On December 1, 2009, Progress Energy Carolinas announced that by the end of 2017 it would permanently close all of its North Carolina coal plants without sulfur dioxide scrubbers. The 11 units at L.V. Sutton, Cape Fear, Weatherspoon, and Lee total almost 1,500 megawatts and represent about a third of the utility's coal-fired power generation in N.C. The retirement plan includes the following:

  • Lee is scheduled for retirement in 2013.
  • Sutton is slated for closure in 2014. Progress hopes to replace it with a natural gas-fired power plant.
  • Cape Fear and Weatherspoon will be shut down between 2013 and 2017. The company is considering converting 50 to 150MW of the total capacity to burn wood waste.

The closure plan was filed in response to a request by the N.C. Utilities Commission, which ordered Progress to provide its retirement schedule for "unscrubbed" coal-fired units in North Carolina. The request was a condition of the commission's approval of Progress' plan to close Lee and build a 950-MW natural gas plant at the site.[56]

Duke might close seven coal units

In September 2010, Duke Energy said it might close seven coal-fired units at its Carolinas power plants within five years as environmental regulations intensify. It may retire by 2015 all coal-fired units for which it's not economical to install sulfur dioxide controls called scrubbers. That would increase by 890 megawatts the coal plants Duke had planned to retire in 2009. The retired units would be at Duke's Riverbend Steam Station in Gaston County, Buck Steam Station in Rowan County, and Lee Steam Plant in Anderson County, S.C. Duke said it might convert Lee from coal to natural gas fuel.[57]

Duke has already agreed to retire 800 megawatts of older coal units as part of an N.C. permit to build a new 825-megawatt unit under construction at the Cliffside Plant in Rutherford County. That will shutter four old units at Cliffside, two at Buck, three at Dan River Steam Station, and two at Riverbend.[57]

Duke's projections show the amount of its electricity generated with coal falling from 42 percent in 2011 to 29 percent in 2030. The share from nuclear power, in contrast, stays steady at 51 percent. The utility continues to plan for a new nuclear plant, its first since the mid-1980s, to open in Gaffney, S.C., in about 2020. Duke is also building two gas-fired power plants, to open at Buck in late 2011 and at Dan River in late 2012.[57]

UNC Chapel Hill to end coal use

On May 4, 2011, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced it would end coal use within in the next decade. “Universities must lead the transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy,” UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said. UNC planned to start co-firing coal with biomass in 2011, replacing 20 percent of coal with biomass no later than 2015, and moving towards natural gas and renewable energy. [58]

Public nuisance suit North Carolina v. TVA

TVA at the Crossroads, produced by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

On January 13, 2009, in North Carolina ex rel. Cooper v. Tennessee Valley Authority (W.D. N.C. Jan. 13, 2009), North Carolina District Judge Lacy Thornburg declared that air emissions from three coal-fired plants located in eastern Tennessee and one plant located in Alabama, all operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, are a public nuisance under state law.[59] On July 26th, 2010, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit, setting aside an injunction that would have required the installation of more than a billion dollars worth of emissions control technologies at four TVA plants in Alabama and Tennessee.[60] The suit was settled April 14, 2011, when the "Tennessee Valley Authority" agreed to shut down 18 coal fired power plants.

A consent decree entered June 30 by the US District Court for the Eastern District of Tennesse required TVA to invest an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion in pollution controls at 11 coal-fired plants. TVA will also close two units at its John Sevier plant, six units at the Widows Creek plant, and the 10 units at its Johnsonville plant by 2017. Remaining coal-fired units will require pollution control upgrades by 2020. [61] TVA is also required to invest $290 million for its own clean energy and efficiency projects and to pay $60 million to the states of North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee for similar projects.


NC Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard

On August 20, 2007, North Carolina became the first state in the Southeast to adopt a Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS). The law requires investor-owned utilities to meet up to 12.5% of their energy needs through renewable energy resources or energy efficiency measures. Rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric suppliers are subject to a 10% REPS requirement. [62]

Apple iData Center in Maiden, NC to generate solar electricity

May 2012: Activists "brand" coal trains bound for Marshall plant with Apple logo.

A 2011 Greenpeace report, "How Dirty is Your Data?" estimates that the $1 Billion (USD) Apple iData Center in North Carolina, expected to open in spring 2011, will consume as much as 100 MW of electricity, equivalent to the electricity usage of approximately 80,000 homes in the U.S. The surrounding energy grid has less than 5 percent clean energy, with the remaining 95 percent coming from coal and nuclear. According to the report, many data center clusters (Google, Facebook, Apple) are located in North Carolina and the US Midwest - areas where coal-powered electricity is more commonly used.[63]

Apple filed for permits to reshape the slope of some of the 171 acres of vacant land it owns in Maiden, NC, opposite the data center, to prepare for a solar farm. However, the company did not answer requests for more information when the permits were issued in late October of 2011, and the size of the solar power plant as a percentage of Apple's energy demand is not known. [64]



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  2. 2.0 2.1 North Carolina Ranks High in Coal Plants, Global Warming Pollution, Southern Environmental Law Center, November 20, 2007.
  3. "Burning Coal, Burning Cash" Union of Concerned Scientists' Report, May 18, 2010.
  4. Energy Impacts in North Carolina: The Annual Report of the Energy Policy Council and the State Energy Office, April 2005. (Pdf)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Mineral Resources, NC Geological Survey, Division of Land Resources, accessed May 2008.
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  7. Protestors, Police Amass in Downtown Asheville, Mountain Xpress, August 13, 2007.
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  33. "Enviro groups: ND, SD coal ash polluting water" Associated Press, August 24, 2010.
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  35. 35.0 35.1 "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash" Earthjustice & Sierra Club, February 1, 2011.
  36. "Coal ash waste tied to cancer-causing chemicals in water supplies" Alicia Bayer,, February 1, 2011.
  37. Averyt, K., J. Fisher, A. Huber-Lee, A. Lewis, J. Macknick, N. Madden, J. Rogers, and S. Tellinghuisen, "Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource," The Union of Concerned Scientists' Energy and Water in a Warming World initiative, November 2011 Report.
  38. Municipal Power Relief Agency Subcommittee ElectriCities, Oct. 25, 2011.
  39. Gary D. Robertson, "NC lawmakers look at steep power bills, city debt," Associated Press, Oct. 23, 2011.
  40. "Duke seeks 15 pct power rate hike in North Carolina" Reuters, July 1, 2011.
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  44. Sally Kneidel, "Crowd overflows hearing for Duke Energy rate hike: more coal and nuclear at stake," Veggie Revolution, Oct. 12, 2011.
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  64. Dianne Straley, "Apple Plans NC Solar Farm," Charlotte Observer, Oct. 27, 2011.


Existing coal plants in North Carolina

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