Local News
4:52 pm
Tue May 19, 2015

Duke To Close Asheville Coal Plant 15 Years Early

Duke Energy will close one of its few remaining coal plants 15 years earlier than expected; the company says it will shutter its Asheville coal plant by 2019. Once done, Duke will have retired more than half of its coal units in the Carolinas since 2011.

Unlike the other recent closures, the Asheville plant wasn’t near the end of its useable life. In its latest long-range plan, Duke calculated it would leave the plant open for at least the next 15 years. And, the company poured almost $200 million on air pollution controls in the mid-2000s.

Duke's Asheville Coal Plant
Duke's Asheville Coal Plant
Credit Duke Energy

But the region it served is growing and expected to continue to grow, and the relatively small coal plant couldn’t keep up. Company spokesman Dave Scanzoni says it makes sense to move on.

“Long-term clearly EPA regulations and other regulations the trend is moving away from coal and to significantly cleaner sources,” Scanzoni says.

A new EPA rule, which Duke has criticized, would require power plants to cut back on carbon emissions by about 40 percent. The company has also faced accusations of air pollution in Asheville—a factor Scanzoni says did not play a part—as well as a state requirement to move all of its coal ash from the site in the next five years.

Like most of its other coal plant closures, Duke will replace the lost generation with a new, and larger, natural gas plant, expected in 2019. The company estimates the low price of that fuel will make it a third cheaper to operate. Along with it, Duke will build a solar plant of still-unspecified size.

“These investments we’re announcing today will serve customers for the next 30-40-50 years, half a century,” Scanzoni says. “Just like the power plant that’s being closed at Asheville, the coal plant, is 50 years old.

It’s also a good snapshot of Duke’s long-term generation plans around the state—convert coal to natural gas, continue to rely on nuclear, while growing its footprint of renewable energy by a few percentage points. Environmental groups generally praised the announcement to switch off the coal plant.