BASICS: DUKE ENERGY’S CLIFFSIDE POWER PLANT
Duke Energy is one of nation’s largest electric utilities and its third largest user of coal.
Over two years ago, Duke began plans for construction of two 800 megawatt coal-fired units at its Cliffside, NC power plant west of Charlotte. The units would use conventional, pulverized coal technology that does not allow for controlling carbon dioxide nor mercury emissions. Five smaller and older coal furnaces now operate at Cliffside, mostly on a limited basis.
Duke hoped to begin construction of the new units by early 2007, but the project has been delayed three times.
An alliance of public interest groups argued before the NC Utilities Commission and in the public arena for over a year, that new generation capacity is not needed, particularly because Duke had done nothing to promote energy efficiency. Duke actually has a large department that aggressively promotes energy usage.
In a rare denial to a NC power company, in February the Commission approved only one unit.
Although Duke has tried to keep cost estimates quiet, opponents exposed several price hikes. The hotly contested plant is now more than $1 billion over budget and a year behind schedule. The latest estimate is $2.4 billion for the single unit, $600 million of which is estimated financing costs.
Documents filed in October by Duke indicate the project is likely to suffer further delays and cost even more before construction could begin in early 2008. Legal challenges continue over the single unit’s air pollution and water permits. A few other points:
GREENHOUSE GASES: Cliffside’s new plant would release six million tons of carbon dioxide annually – the leading global warming pollutant – into the air for 50 years.
WATER USAGE: State regulators unlawfully granted a permit allowing Duke Energy to use 120 million gallons of water per day (MGD) at Cliffside without analyzing the impacts of drought, reliability and downstream users, according to a legal challenge filed in October by NC WARN. Duke says that if Unit 6 is built, by 2011 the plant would withdraw far less water, but the amount being evaporated would double to 21 MGD.
MERCURY EMISSIONS: The new unit would more than double airborne emissions of mercury, to a total of 405 pounds per year.
AIR POLLUTION: State regulators are illegally allowing Duke to play a shell game involving pollution requirements at the Cliffside project, and to claim the expansion would actually create a “cleaner plant.”