For more than a year, Duke Energy has tried to sell the idea that building a large coal-fired power plant near Charlotte would somehow be “good for the environment.” Following the January 29th state approval for construction to begin, the deception increased. By masking the new unit’s pollution behind upgrades already required by state law at an existing Cliffside furnace – and the retirement of four very small units that sit idle most of the time – Duke has misled the public, media and elected leaders into thinking that building a new unit will reduce a range of harmful emissions.
To summarize, CO2 emissions are set to increase significantly (factor of 12) if this plant is approved. So, in my book, this is a loser project that does not deserve even consideration. The facts are simple. This country is less than two years away from putting a price on carbon through some kind of carbon cap-trade scheme. All three major candidates for president support some kind of scheme, though McCain does not seem to know if the legislation he supports has an emissions cap or not (typical of him, he does not have any policy expertise or attention to detail whatsoever). So, the ground rules on what constitutes a cost effective option and what represents a major money making boondoggle are going to change very soon. Our state officials, thanks to the miracle of the internets, have all the knowledge to make a decision based on a reality that is coming soon. So, their reluctance to consider CO2 is puzzlingly short sighted. Duke Energy has some vague promises to sequester the carbon. But the fact of the matter is that the technology does not exist, and there’s no guarantee that it will exist any time soon in any cost effective fashion.
Even if you’re a big believer in the technology advances that will no doubt occur into the future, you have to admit that carbon emissions cannot be free any more. So, unless the federal government puts a price on the carbon, you cannot objectively support a project that will give these emissions away for free. Don’t tell me that Duke Energy will have to pay for the carbon it emits from Cliffside. It may have to, but it will pas all costs along to consumers and win anyway. So the tax payers of North Carolina are stuck with an expensive, dinosaur technology power generating option that is incredibly polluting for years to come. All because the state officials did not have the foresight to wait a year or two.
You can make the same argument for mercury. The current EPA “plan” for mercury is in tatters as it violates the clean air act. A change in administration (no McCain this time, only Clinton or Obama) is no doubt going to cause a tightening of mercury rules, a long overdue prospect. Why would the state approve a plan that would result in an increase in mercury emissions knowing fully well that federal regulation in this matter is unsettled? What ever happened to the conservative wait and watch approach?
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