UPDATE: Asheville City Council asks local agency to toughen SO2 standard on Duke Energy plant

COAL CUTTERS: The Buncombe County Board of Adjustment gave the go-ahead to a conditional use permit that will allow Duke Energy to begin construction on its natural gas facility. Duke says it plans to eliminate its Arden-based coal-fired operation by the end of 2019.

UPDATE: Asheville City Council voted unanimously April 28 to ask the the local air agency to strengthen emissions requirements for the Duke Energy plant in Arden. See below for the prior report, as well as a copy of Mayor Esther Manheimer’s letter to the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency.

PREVIOUSLY: At tonight’s meeting, April 28, Asheville City Council members may agree to ask the local air agency to “strengthen” proposed limits on sulphur dioxide emissions at Duke Energy’s local power plant. The move comes ahead of a Wednesday, April 29, public hearing that the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency will hold to consider renewing the air permit for the Duke Energy plant.

Council will review a proposed letter from Mayor Esther Manheimer to Britt Lovin, chairman of WNCRQA’s board. The letter references a recent study indicating that safe SO2 limits have been exceeded occasionally at the plant, and notes, “Council is concerned that the suggested permit limit for sulfur dioxide (SO2) is insufficient to protect city and county residents from harmful air pollution, and we ask that [the agency] strengthen that limit to ensure our residents can breathe healthy air.”

See below for the full text of the draft letter to WNCRQA. The public hearing will be healed Wednesday, April 29, at 6 p.m. at the Clyde A. Erwin High School auditorium (60 Lees Creek Road). The draft air-quality permit can be found here.

Chairman Britt Lovin
WNC Regional Air Quality Board
49 Mount Carmel Road
Asheville, NC 28806

Dear Chairman Lovin,

On behalf of the Asheville City Council, I am writing to express concern about the draft Title V air permit recently issued by the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency (WNCRAQA) for Duke Energy’s Asheville Steam Electric Plant. Specifically, Council is concerned that the suggested permit limit for sulfur dioxide (SO2) is insufficient to

protect city and county residents from harmful air pollution, and we ask that you strengthen that limit to ensure our residents can breathe healthy air.

As you know, even short‐term exposure to SO2 is linked with an array of adverse respiratory effects, including bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms. Elevated concentrations of SO2 in the air leads to more emergency room visits and hospital admissions, particularly for children, the elderly, and people with asthma.

According to a recent report that uses a model approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for tracking SO2 pollution, emissions from the Asheville plant have been causing violations of the ambient air quality standard for SO2 established by EPA. Indeed, the report states that the pollution in residential and recreational areas is at concentrations up to 3.5 times higher than levels EPA has determined to be safe. These exceedances have occurred approximately one out of every three to four days since 2010.

I am concerned that the newly released draft air permit maintains the same SO2 emissions limit that the plant has had for years. This limit is nearly 80 times higher than the limit necessary to attain EPA’s public health‐based SO2 standard, and we believe it is insufficient to protect our community from the impacts of air pollution.

The final Title V permit should contain limits that allow ambient air in the Asheville area to meet EPA’s standard. We understand that limit to be no more than 61.7 lb/hr of SO2 for each coal‐burning unit, or a plant‐wide average of 0.029 lb/MMBtu. We also understand that these levels are achievable if the plant’s air pollution controls are run at full efficiency, as they were when they were first installed, or if the plant stops using high sulfur content coal.

Part of our job as elected officials is to ensure the safety of our community. There seems to be a clear path to addressing this problem and ensuring healthy air for our residents, and the first step on that path is for plant’s air permit to contain appropriate SO2 limits.

Esther Manheimer, Mayor


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Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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3 thoughts on “UPDATE: Asheville City Council asks local agency to toughen SO2 standard on Duke Energy plant

  1. Grant Millin

    I agree asking about local air quality standards matters. New air quality monitoring tools may come online later this decade.

    I spoke at tonight’s Erwin High event and suggested that citizens start asking what it will take to turn off the Duke Energy Lake Julian coal-fired electricity generators. Solar, wind, and efficiency help, but I’d like the city to work with grid issues subject matter experts to get some concrete alternatives identified applicable to Asheville’s unique factors. This coincides with the Asheville Community Energy Plan, but there seems to be some internal city hall tension as to how far the ACEP work should go. I am an ACEP task force member and made some specific recommendations along those lines, as well as suggesting a citywide energy innovation metric of 100 megawatts.

    I will be sharing details on a May 22-24 event that is designed to start the work—hopefully in concert with the ACEP task force—of researching that question of what would it take to decommission our local coal-fired electricity generators.

    I asked the Mayor and city council to request city hall staff submit a Resilient Electricity Infrastructure (REDI) Initiative funding application. Three months ago I suggested COA apply, with or without my REDI solution. A REDI award would have provided several hundred thousand dollars to produce pubic trust solutions that may be just as reliable and cost effective as what Duke demands, but are much more environmentally-friendly and frankly may undermine Duke’s business model.

    It’s especially a tragedy to be headed towards a conventional substation that extends the life of these obsolete coal units going right behind Isaac Dickson Elementary School. The REDI grant application deadline was extended to May 4th. I doubt city hall will apply. I feel my solution would have made a difference and given the public serious resources to do this serious ‘Contra Duke’/pro-resiliency and pro-climate change mitigation analysis and strategy action.

    Btw, it’s very, very strange to see local media bypass this question and strategy I’m introducing which forces me to stick it all in the comments section? Bizarre.

    Asheville city council candidate calls for municipal collaboration on DOE grant

    March 6, 2015
    Grant Millin


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