If you read the information Duke Energy is spreading throughout the news media in its vast public relations campaign, you’d be led to believe the request for a 15 percent rate increase (17 percent for residential ratepayers) is a result of meeting new environmental regulations, especially in building the new “state-of-the-art” coal unit at Cliffside.
This is a distortion of reality that should be understood by all public officials, news outlets and members of the rate-paying public. I commend the Macon County Commissioners and the Franklin Board of Alderman for being the first public officials to take a stand against this round of rate hikes. Hopefully others will follow in short order.
This is the second of three rate hikes Duke Energy will be requesting for its expansion at Cliffside. For those who have not followed this issue closely, the energy from this plant is not intended to meet the energy needs of North Carolinians, where demand has been steadily declining due to efficiency and conservation measures in the past decade.
Rather, the Cliffside project is part of Duke Energy’s plan for expansion into new competing territories in other states. For example, in 2009 Duke expanded by signing a contract with five electric cooperatives in South Carolina to provide up to 1,500 megawatts of new capacity. That’s more than twice the capacity of the new unit at Cliffside, indicating an already existing large surplus of generating capacity for Duke Energy.
In addition, the new Cliffside hardly represents “state-of-the-art” coal technology, not even by the industry’s own standards. So-called “clean coal” technology was previously defined by the industry as Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology in which clean-burning methane gas is the ultimate fuel extracted from the coal prior to burning. IGCC units would in addition, supposedly, allow for the capture and sequestration of CO2 or greenhouse gases.
Duke Energy chose not to build an IGCC plant at Cliffside (perhaps because the practicality did not live up to the industry hype), but instead is constructing an old-fashioned, dirty, pulverized coal-burning power plant that will release into our air sulfur-dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, hydrogen chloride, cadmium, barium, dioxins and dozens of other hazardous and toxic chemicals. While it’s true that the new plant will reduce the output of most of these pollutants from what older plants produced without emission controls, the poisons of Cliffside’s operation will continue to add to the buildup of toxins already permeating our environment, including and especially mercury. The new unit at Cliffside will do nothing to reduce CO2 emissions, and in fact will double its previous output of greenhouse gases to approximately 6 million tons per year, or as much as would be produced by a million automobiles.
The continued use of coal derived from mountaintop removal mining is devastating a huge geographical region in Appalachia, its people, its history and its water supply. And the toxic coal ash pile from Cliffside’s operation will build as a catastrophe in waiting.
There is nothing responsible about the Cliffside project and ratepayers in North Carolina should not finance this project through outrageously high rate increases. The state should instead be pursuing policies that will result in further reductions in energy consumption and the transformation to clean, safe, less expensive renewable technologies as quickly as possible.