Cliffside power plant permit approved, environmentalists respond

The North Carolina Division of Air Quality today approved an air-quality permit for Duke Energy to build a new 800-Megawatt unit at its Cliffside power plant near Shelby. The agency insisted that Duke retire older and more polluting plants before bringing the new unit online.

The proposal has long been a point of controversy among environmental groups, as representatives from the Southern Environmental Law Center, the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, along with hundreds of concerned citizens, weighed in during the public-comment period for this permit. The Canary Coalition, a Sylva-based nonprofit, recently announced a boycott against Cliffside.

Below, a statement issued by the Southern Environmental Law Center on the decision to approve the coal-fired facility, in which the organization indicates that it is “taking a hard look at this permit” and evaluating legal options.

— Rebecca Bowe, contributing editor

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The following is a statement from SELC attorney Gudrun Thompson on the permit released today.

Gudrun Thompson: “We appreciate the efforts of the Easley Administration to improve upon the seriously flawed draft permit. However, the State has still granted a final permit that will not require Duke to build Cliffside Unit 6 with the cleanest technology available, as the federal Clean Air Act requires.

DAQ is allowing Duke to escape review of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) based on pollution cleanups at the existing Cliffside units, even though those units have been subject to a long-standing EPA enforcement action and should have been cleaned up years ago.  As a result, DAQ still has not required an analysis of the effect that those pollutants, which contribute to smog and acid rain, would have on the Great Smoky Mountains and other sensitive natural areas in Western North Carolina.  The permit also fails to require maximum control of toxic mercury, in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

It’s encouraging that the State is requiring Duke to offset carbon dioxide emissions from Cliffside Unit 6, but it’s important to realize that DAQ is not requiring Duke to actually reduce its carbon footprint and is allowing Duke to build a conventional coal plant that does not allow for capture of carbon dioxide.

The bottom line is that despite some modest improvements in response to criticism from SELC, EPA, the National Park Service and many others, this permit still has serious flaws.  We are taking a hard look at this permit and evaluating our legal options going forward.”

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7 thoughts on “Cliffside power plant permit approved, environmentalists respond

  1. W. Ferrin

    Is anyone paying attention to the potential for sulphur TRIOXIDE or what is commonly known as “blue plume” to be the next problem to solve related to coal plants equipped with scrubbers? Why are we not hearing about this potentially hazardous consequence to locals from these newly installed scrubbers? And where is all the water going to come from to operate this new plant? What are people thinking? Are people thinking? California has a lot more people than NC and they don’t burn coal in order to provide energy. Might they be the only ones THINKING?

  2. nuvue

    While I also think coal is problematic….I don’t believe Calif is the model to follow. Plenty of Nuclear plants out there….Nuclear power will again become the thing elec. companies want to build if we are not paying attn.
    Do you want to dam the rest of the rivers?
    I believe more needs to be done in individual communities, like credits for using peoples roofs for solar arrays. More energy efficiency will offset tremendous amounts of power (but companies are into selling more juice….not getting you to save what we have.)
    Question… is this plant going to help close down more polluting outdated plants?

  3. Gordon Smith

    It’s clean on emissions, but let’s not pretend that nuclear is “non-polluting”, Ralph. In fact, the waste from nuclear plants is the most toxic stuff we produce as humans, and we don’t know how or where to store it. We will simply leave it for future generations to figure out.

  4. Well, Gordon — you don’t like nuclear, you don’t like coal, you’d be purely against more damns, I know you think we use too much oil … what technology DO you like that will supply the power needs of our fast growing society? What solution DO you offer?

    In the meantime, please turn off your lights, heat, and computer.

  5. nuvue

    Hey Ralph
    Nuclear is not cheap either when you factor in all the costs of the plants and mothballing them later.
    I am a realist though and electricity is hard to produce on a massive scale. There are no easy answers. I also don’t want to see the rivers dam (med) any further. WNC is not blessed with a huge sun or wind resource….so maybe increasing the efficiency of all generating sources will help in the short (50 yrs) term. We need to add better turbines at the hydro plants, (and pray for rain) use roofs for solar. This will help esp. for peak AC loads in summer. And hopefully move towards more sustainable systems. When is the magic fuel cell dream going to happen?
    Any how, I hope the new plant will be replacing some outdated and more polluting plants in the area…..

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