Op-Ed by Jim Warren
Climate change is causing extensive damage at an accelerating rate. Oxfam International
reports that weather disasters have quadrupled in 20 years with a quarter billion people
impacted annually. Arctic Sea ice could be gone by summer 2012, further disrupting weather
systems. And the world’s top scientists recently amplified their call for urgent reduction of
Yet, Duke Energy is beginning construction of a large coal-fired power plant near Charlotte
using crafty public relations to imply the new Cliffside plant will be “good for the environment.”
With its Jan. 29 approval of the plant, Gov. Mike Easley’s administration joined Duke’s PR
trick: Masking the new unit’s pollution behind upgrades already required by state law at an
existing Cliffside furnace.
Also central to the ruse is the assertion that the new unit would be cleaner than the four older
ones to be retired. But those four furnaces combined are less than one-quarter the size of the
new 800 megawatt unit, and they sit idle most of the time.
Following state approval, the deception increased as Duke ran an open letter from CEO Jim
Rogers in full-page ads across its service area. Included are nine references to “global warming”
and related terms, plus a statement that Cliffside will “eliminate 90 percent of regulated
emissions.” Since no other pollutant is mentioned, readers are led to believe the reduction refers
to greenhouse gases.
In truth, the new unit would discharge 6 million tons of uncontrolled carbon dioxide each year.
That’s more than 12 times more than the small units to be retired, along with 10 times more
mercury and 13 to 50-fold increases of other toxic metals such as arsenic.
Cliffside could fail before completion, as did six nuclear plants Duke tried to build in the 1980s.
The project is particularly risky for stockholders and electricity customers due to an unstable
energy market and global economy. Cliffside’s cost estimate has already doubled to $2.4 billion
dollars. Upcoming carbon regulation will drive power bills even higher, and Wall Street is
reacting by tightening financing of coal-fired power. (Rogers supports carbon regulation for
others, but is lobbying for Cliffside to be
Dozens of U.S. coal-power projects have been cancelled and are being offset by efficient,
renewable energy alternatives that are proving highly successful in the free marketplace, even
as coal and nuclear rely on billions in public subsidies.
The state doesn’t need more electricity generation. We need to stop wasting half of what is
produced, as we belatedly must do with water. A 2007 state study confirmed we can easily save
enough energy to offset growing demand, while expanding renewables and creating tens of
thousands of jobs. For far less than Cliffside’s price tag, solar water heating could be added to
every home in the region, nullifying the need for new plants.
Duke CEO Rogers talks about energy efficiency. But his long-delayed efficiency proposal seems
designed for Duke to make exorbitant profit from modest programs, limit widespread energy
efficiency, and provide PR cover to build coal and nuclear plants.
As the nation’s foremost climate expert, NASA’s James Hansen, emphasizes: The best thing
North Carolina can do to tackle accelerating climate change is to cancel this veritable global
warming machine. We must do our part here, so the U.S. can help developing countries avoid
repeating our mistakes.
Recognizing the gravity of climate change, a statewide coalition of nonprofits cannot afford to
rest until Cliffside is stopped. We don’t have time to wait for Duke’s vague promise to become
carbon neutral in a decade or so, because the new plant alone would offset most statewide
efforts to reduce CO2.
People across North Carolina must continue calling on CEO Jim Rogers to be straight with the
public, and walk his green talk by cancelling this unnecessary plant. And we must demand that
our leaders stand up to the giant power companies that have long used their financial influence
and deceptive propaganda to stifle democratic decision-making.