Two North Carolina coal plants turn off today, ending a century of pollution

by Monica Embrey

April 1, 2013

This is no April fools joke. Today, two of Duke Energys dirty, outdated coal plants Riverbend and Buck, in North Carolina are officially turning off.

Duke Energy is the countys largest electric utility, and until today operated 14 coal fired power plants in its home state of North Carolina. But because of the organizing efforts of everyday North Carolinians, two of those coal plants have been shut down before Duke had otherwise planned.

The Riverbend Steam Station is an 84-year-old facility that sits along a bend of the Catawba River just outside the Charlotte city limit. This coal plant has been operating since the Great Depression and has had few upgrades in past decades. Its coal boilers average over 50 years old and are lacking modern pollution controls. The Buck Steam Station is even older, having opened in 1926, 87 years ago.

Coal-fired power plants are some of the most deadly and dangerous polluting facilities on Earth. They pump carbon pollution into the atmosphere, causing the global warming thats fueling extreme weather around the world, including stronger hurricanes like Sandy that could cause severe damage here in North Carolina.

Coal mining companies destroy mountains across Appalachia to provide the fuel burned at these facilities. From the tops of the smokestacks, local residents often witness the clouds of soot and pollution as it seeps into their neighborhood. That pollution has been linked to respiratory illnesses like asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and causing heart attacks. A toxic brew of mercury, lead, arsenic and other heavy metals form a wet slurry that sit in unlined and under-regulated coal ash ponds. Riverbend has two and Buck has three high-hazard coal ash ponds associated with their plants, both of which have been documented to leak into local water supplies, which also happen to provide the drinking water supply for the region. Duke Energy has been operating these facilities for decades knowing the risk that they pose to local communities and people across our planet.

Today is a historic day for the movement for clean energy. For the past several years, activists living in Charlotte and in the communities surrounding these coal plants have been organizing and calling on Duke Energy to quit coal and start by shutting down these facilities. Today marks our victory. Children who live on Mountain Island Lake can breathe a little easier, knowing there is less pollution in the air. There is less demand for mountaintop removal coal from the Appalachian region. The United States is one step closer to reducing its carbon pollution and preventing the worst impacts of global warming.

For the past two years, everyday North Carolinians have rallied, signed petitions, made phone calls, testified at public hearings and spoken at press conferences to make their voices heard. The community came together to fight Duke and its coal plants, and it was too much for the largest energy company in the country to ignore.

A community group of concerned parents and children who live directly next to the Riverbend Coal Plant, called We Love Mountain Island Lake, deserves special thanks as they have extensively educated and engaged their neighbors to shut down Riverbend and clean up the toxic ash ponds. The effort to protect our water unfortunately continues, as Duke has yet to submit its plans to clean up the toxic ash ponds.

And Duke still operates 12 coal plants around the state, with no plan to clean up its act and switch to safer, cleaner, cheaper forms of energy like wind and solar. So theres plenty of work left to do.

But lets take a moment today to celebrate. Then take action and let Duke Energy know that you want them to shut down all of its coal plants and switch to clean energy. Take a photo of your message to Duke Energy and upload it here:

Monica Embrey

By Monica Embrey

Monica Embrey is a former Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace USA, based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She led Greenpeace’s national campaign on Duke Energy, the largest utility in the country, to promote affordable renewable energy in the Southeast.

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