From coal to clean energy

On Oct. 22, Asheville City Council unanimously passed a clean energy resolution that affirms our mountain city's commitment to reduce our carbon emissions, transition away from coal and move towards clean-energy solutions.

I received this great news while attending a “Coal to Clean Energy” conference in Chicago, Ill., where more than 300 top lawyers, organizers and communication specialists from across the country — and the world — gathered to strategize on how to continue to move beyond coal. A triumphant cheer went up when Mary Anne Hitt, national director of the Beyond Coal campaign, announced that Asheville voted to join the ranks of Chicago, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, as pioneering cities that have chosen to move beyond coal and take steps forward to address the climate crisis.

Chicago is a great success story in this fight. Just three years ago, two nasty coal-fired power plants were still spewing toxic pollution into Chicago's air. It seriously affected the health of citizens throughout the city, but as is too often the case, the pollution especially impacted citizens living in the low-income neighborhoods, where the coal plants were located. People were getting sick — so they organized.

Chicago residents, led by strong community groups in those neighborhoods, realized city leaders could play a key role in helping to phase out the coal plants — and to make sure local residents and workers benefitted from the transition. Community members worked with the City Council and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to pass the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, a plan to phase out the coal plants, and ensure community leadership in determining next steps. Chicago is now on track to become the first coal-free city in the Midwest by the end of 2014. The city’s leadership was a critical component in the success of the campaign, and all of Chicago can breathe easier because of it.

That’s just one example of many. Since 2002, the Beyond Coal campaign and its partners across the country have stopped 179 proposed coal plants from moving forward, preventing new carbon pollution and creating a larger market for clean energy. What’s more, 150 coal-fired power plants have set a path to retirement. Coal-fired power is now at its lowest level in more than a generation. Even billionaire Warren Buffet says coal will never make a comeback. King Coal has been dethroned.

Now our very own Asheville has joined this forward-thinking cadre of communities. And why not? Duke Energy's Asheville coal plant is the largest single source of climate-disrupting pollution in Western North Carolina — and a major source of toxic water pollution. We buy local; we frequent the local farmer’s market; we drink organic local beer. We love our mountains and rivers and fight hard to protect them. But right now, when we turn on our lights, we’re polluting our precious river and harming our planet’s very ability to support life. We are even contributing to the destruction of equally beautiful and biodiverse mountains in Eastern Kentucky, via mountaintop-removal coal mining. That’s a very significant hurdle standing in the way of becoming a true beacon of sustainability. Burning coal is an ancient, dirty technology that needs to go. Otherwise, we can’t honestly call ourselves an eco-conscious community. 

The city resolution is a great step, but it’s just the first step. If we want to continue on this path toward sustainability, we have to be willing to fight for it. It means holding our elected officials accountable in making sure this new partnership with Duke Energy is vibrant and productive. It means calling on Duke Energy to invest heavily in energy efficiency, including supporting local initiatives for weatherization. It means that Duke Energy needs to develop a transition plan that moves away from coal, and invests in utility-scale solar projects. We believe that they can do it, and that they can join us in realizing our vision for a clean energy future in Western North Carolina.

Let’s move beyond coal, Asheville! It won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight. But let’s work together to build a truly sustainable future for our region.

For more information, and to find out how you can get involved, visit, Asheville Beyond Coal on Facebook and @avlbeyondcoal on Twitter.

Anna Jane Joyner is the campaign coordinator for the Western North Carolina Alliance, which is a founding member of the Asheville Beyond Coal coalition.

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