Beyond Coal

Winds of Change: A rally goer holds a sign in front of a mock inflatable of Duke Energy’s Asheville coal-powered plant. Environmentalists gathered to call for the plant’s closure and advocate for alternative energy. By Max Cooper
Winds of Change: A rally goer holds a sign in front of a mock inflatable of Duke Energy’s Asheville coal-powered plant. Environmentalists gathered to call for the plant’s closure and advocate for alternative energy. By Max Cooper

A few hundred people rallied under clear blue skies in Pack Square Park Aug. 24 to call on Duke Energy to shutter its Asheville coal plant and advocate for clean energy. The event, called "Beyond Coal: A Rally for Our Future," featured local speakers, singers and popular TV actor/vampire Ian Somerhalder.

Mary Anne Hitt, national director of Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign, said 149 coal-powered plants had closed since 2010 thanks to grassroots movements like the one going on in Asheville. "A lot of times it just takes grassroots efforts," said Hitt. "We're here today to call on Duke Energy to move beyond coal and retire the Asheville coal plant."

She charged that the plant's coal-ash lagoons had contaminated groundwater and the French Broad River, citing recent litigation by the state of North Carolina against Duke Energy for wastewater violations. The 376-megawatt plant, visible just off the Interstate 26 Skyland exit, was built in 1964 and is currently the largest electric-generating facility in Western North Carolina. Critics say it is also the biggest source of carbon emissions and air pollution in the region.

Hitt said a resolution is set to go before the city council by the end of the year on the plant. She said her group advocates for wind, solar and other alternative energies to replace the mega-plants that produce much of America's electricity.

Taking the podium first, Mayor Terry Bellamy did not speak directly on the Asheville plant or advocate for its closure. However, she touted other environmental measures the city had enacted, such as changing street lamps to energy-saving LEDs, installing a compressed natural gas line and starting a sustainability fund.

Co-hosted by the Sierra Club, Western North Carolina Alliance, SouthWings and other environmental groups, parts of the rally were filmed for a Showtime documentary series on climate change. Executive produced by director James Cameron Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the series Years of Living Dangerously will explore the impact of climate change on communities.

Ian Somerhalder, star of the CW Network's Vampire Diaries, was on hand for the Asheville rally. Somerhalder arrived at the end of the event to a pack of fawning teenage girls (and some adults, too), who pressed in closely to snap cellphone pictures of the star. Somerhalder spoke briefly on his support for environmental causes and met with fans afterward.

"We're here to address one of our biggest challenges: climate disruption," said Somerhalder.

Husband and wife Patrick and Sarah Hunter biked to the rally to show their support. Patrick, who works for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said his job relates directly to coal. "We [SELC] work on coal-ash lawsuits. … I'm here to to support the cause."

To learn more about the Beyond Coal campaign, visit content.sierraclub.org/coal. For info on the Showtime documentary, visit yearsoflivingdangerously.com.

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