Duke Energy is Shutting Down Two Coal Plants: What’s Next?

by Robert Gardner

February 1, 2013

Kumi Naidoo and Greenpeace boat at Riverbend coal plant

Today, Duke Energy, the biggest electric utility in the country, announced that it is shutting down two coal-fired power plants near Charlotte, North Carolina — the Buck and Riverbend plants.

The closures are great news, both for communities in North Carolina who want healthy air and water, and for everyone around the world, since burning coal is the leading U.S. cause of global warming.

These two coal plants have been polluting North Carolina for over 80 years. Riverbend came online in 1929. Buck three years earlier in 1926. Though Duke says this is “early retirement,” these plants should have been put to pasture forty years ago.

For the 860,000 people who drink water from Mountain Island Lake and for everybody who breathes air in the region, the closure of these plants will mean the dawn of a new hope for clean air and water unspoiled by toxic coal ash.

That includes people like Sara and Anna Behnke who live just a few blocks away from Riverbend. Sara, a 5 year cancer survivor, was concerned about the health impacts of the air pollution and toxic coal ash on her children and her community. So they did something about it. They rallied their community and demanded that Duke Energy clean up the plant and the leaking, unlined coal ash ponds in their backyard.

This will be good news for them. But the battle to clean those plants up is far from over. Duke must now commit to careful remediation of the two sites, including the coal ash it is leaving behind, to protect nearby communities from toxic exposure.

Duke has to make these announcements the norm, not the exception. Coal is filthy and Duke burns a whole lot of it (especially Mountaintop Removal coal). Duke has 12 more coal plants in the Carolinas, some of which are over 60 years old. Duke has a duty to shut those coal plants down, clean up those sites, and protect communities from toxic exposure.

Duke can grasp this opportunity to move away from fossil fuels and invest in North Carolinas future with renewable energy. Duke must move as quickly as possible to phase out all of its fossil fuel and nuclear plants, and deploy distributed, clean energy throughout the state, creating jobs and saving money in the process.

So, while today was a good day for the climate, for North Carolina, and the country, more needs to be done. Duke can make the change and lead the nation towards a clean energy future. Duke’ can be the lynchpin that drives other electric utilities in a race to the top for a new American energy economy. Dukes executives just have to put their money where their mouth is, stiffen their backbone and get to work.

Until they do, Greenpeace will work with our partners to make sure we hear many more announcements like todays from Duke.

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