What should North Carolina do in response to the growing effects of global climate change, a statewide health advisory on mercury tainted fish, and an exceptionally serious statewide drought? Apparently the answer for Duke Energy and state regulators is to build a new massive carbon dioxide spewing, mercury emitting, and water-depleting coal burning power plant just west of Charlotte. If built, this 800-megawatt coal-fired unit at Duke’s Cliffside power plant will be the largest coal burning unit ever built in North Carolina.
The answer for people who practice what they preach about environmental responsibility is quite different. These people work for a new energy economy in which officials would not permit Duke to build this proposed coal plant. Here are just three of the reasons not to build:
THE DROUGHT: North Carolina is currently under a severe statewide drought and Governor Easley is urging residents to find creative ways to conserve water. But what isn’t often mentioned is that coal and nuclear power plants are some of the state’s biggest water hogs. If the Cliffside unit is built, it would double the amount of water lost to evaporation at the Duke plant from 10 million to about 20 million gallons -- each day.
To put that number in perspective, the additional 10 million gallons of lost water would be equivalent to the combined water consumption on one day this November by the cities of Lexington, Boone, Nashville, Goldsboro, and Brevard.
The drought is serious enough that Duke and Progress Energy have begun looking at contingency plans in the event there isn’t enough water to run their coal and nuclear plants. Here’s a plan for Duke and Progress: invest in renewable sources of energy like solar and wind power, which are drought-proof.
CLIMATE CHANGE: Duke Energy’s plan for more coal comes just as the overwhelming scientific evidence points to humanity’s impact on global climate change. If built, the new Cliffside unit will annually emit over 6 million tons of carbon dioxide, one of the leading factors in global warming.
State regulators in Washington soundly rejected a plan for a 793 mega-watt coal plant this November because of their concerns about the plant’s emissions. This ruling followed similar recent decisions to halt coal plants in Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Texas. These states understand that the addiction to coal power must be kicked. Why doesn’t North Carolina?
MERCURY TAINTED FISH: Coal fired power plants are also the number one source of mercury emissions in North Carolina. Those emissions eventually fall into our waterways and make their way up the fish food chain.
Coincidentally, the state Department of Public Health has issued its largest ever fish consumption advisory based on unsafe levels of mercury found in fish consumed by North Carolinians. Most women and children are urged to avoid eating 22 types of fish due to high levels of mercury contamination. Mercury is particularly dangerous for women of child-bearing age because of the potential for harm to a developing fetus. Unsafe levels of mercury can lead to developmental disabilities and other adverse health effects. Burning more coal in North Carolina will only increase the mercury health risks for mothers and their babies.
In today’s world of technological advances in clean and renewable energy, it is irresponsible to commit this state to decades more coal pollution. Who will take responsibility and protect the people of North Carolina?
Perhaps state regulators at the Division of Air Quality will deny the permit Duke needs before beginning construction of the plant. Perhaps state legislators will pass legislation halting new coal power plants in North Carolina while the state studies the impact of global warming and the drought. Perhaps Governor Easley will use the power of the Governor’s mansion and follow the lead of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. She wrote the following after Kansas regulators denied a request for a new coal plant in October:
Of all the duties and responsibilities entrusted to me as governor, none is greater than my obligation to protect the health and well-being of the people of Kansas…Instead of building two new coal plants, which would produce 11 million new tons of carbon dioxide each year, I support pursuing other, more promising energy and economic development alternatives.That sounds like real leadership. North Carolina needs our state’s decision makers to stand up for the public good and break our addiction to dirty energy by saying no to Duke Energy’s plans to expand their Cliffside coal plant.
Loyd is the director of North Carolina Interfaith Power & Light, a project of the North Carolina Council of Churches.