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Duke Energy plans to close all of its NC coal plants. But it’ll take a while.

Duke Energy plans to close its seven North Carolina coal plants during the next 30 years, according to filings this week with state regulators.

Those plans include calling for the Allen Steam Station, just outside of Charlotte in Gaston County, to close in 10 years, according to Duke. Coal plants like Allen are made up of different coal units, which are projected to close at different times. The first three units at Allen are expected to close even sooner — by 2024.

“As we lower our carbon footprint, Duke Energy is increasingly moving away from coal-fired generation and we are not including the addition of coal-fired generation going forward,” said Meredith Archie, spokeswoman for Duke.

Utilities across the United States are moving away from coal. For example, Public Service of New Mexico plans to “shed all of its coal-fired electricity in the next 14 years,” according to the Albuquerque Business Journal.

“This is not a Duke Energy phenomenon,” said David Doctor of E4 Carolinas, an association for Carolinas energy sector members. “This is a national phenomenon.”

It is opportune for utilities to retire their coal plants because of environmental reasons and because the demand for power overall is not growing, he said.

Utilities can retire coal plants and then add solar, wind and waste energy or natural gas plants to their systems, putting new capital on their books that will help them maintain their earnings, Doctor said.

Expected retirements are “for planning purposes only,” according to Duke’s plan, filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission. The plans project 15 years of customer demand and energy needs for stakeholders, including lawmakers, customers and environmental groups.

Duke serves 2.6 million customers across North and South Carolina. Duke said in its filing that it plans for future needs “in the most reliable and economic way possible while using increasingly clean forms of energy.”

Duke’s final N.C. coal unit retirement is expected to occur in 2048 at the Rogers Energy Complex in Cliffside. That unit six opened in 2012 and “is one of the cleanest coal-powered plants in the United States,” according to Duke’s website.

The expected 36-year lifespan of unit six is shorter than other units that were at that plant. The first four units at the plant were built from 1938-48 and were closed in 2011, making them at least 63 years old, according to Duke.

Duke’s 15-year projections fit in with the company’s sustainability goal to reduce “carbon emissions by more than 40 (percent) from 2005 levels by 2030. The plans accomplish this goal, despite serving more customer demand over the planning period and without federal or state carbon mandates,” the filing said.

IMG_coalash.JPG_3_1_9LE2JC0A_L403053819.JPG
Duke Energy plans to close its seven North Carolina coal plants during the next 30 years, according to filings this week with state regulators. A mountain of coal next to Duke Energy’s Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman as seen from the coal ash basin, Thursday, May 26, 2016. Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Coal ash has been an issue for Duke Energy since a 2014 spill in North Carolina near the Virginia border. Since then, Duke has been seeking to close sites where it stores coal ash to comply with state law passed after the spill.

Some advocates that support retiring coal plants think the closings should come sooner.

“While we think it’s great that Duke has acknowledged that they need to move away from burning coal to produce power, 2048 is just way too long,” Dave Rogers of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal effort in North Carolina told The Observer. “That means customers are going to be paying more money on their electricity bills to pollute our air and water and exacerbate the impacts of climate change.”

In a statement, Rogers also criticized Duke for “doubling down on fracked gas,” saying that plans to add new gas-fired generation do not address the climate crisis.

Doctor, with the energy association, said Duke’s timeline is “a reasonable and measured approach,” because the utility has to take into account the system’s power needs and community and environmental concerns.

Staff writer Deon Roberts contributed. Cassie Cope: 704-358-5926, @cassielcope.
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