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Legislators pass bill to help Duke Energy convert coal plant to natural gas

Duke Energy’s Asheville Plant began commercial operation in 1964.
Duke Energy’s Asheville Plant began commercial operation in 1964.

The North Carolina legislature has approved a measure that expedites the conversion of Duke Energy’s Asheville power plant from coal to natural gas fuel.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, cleared the House on Thursday. Members of the Senate then agreed to minor changes.

Duke announced last month that it will shut down the two coal-fired units by 2020, replacing them with a larger one fueled by natural gas.

Apodaca’s bill directs the state Utilities Commission to reach a decision on a permit for the gas plant within 45 days of receiving Duke’s application.

It also allows the Asheville plant two exemptions from the Coal Ash Management Act enacted last September.

The exemptions take effect in August 2016 if, by then, the Utilities Commission has issued a permit for the gas plant based on Duke’s written commitment to close the coal units by 2020.

One exemption lets the plant avoid a state requirement that all Duke plants convert their ash handling to dry form by the end of 2019. Ash is now commonly mixed with water and stored in ponds that have been linked to contamination.

The other provision gives Duke until 2022 to close the plant’s two ash ponds. Last year’s ash law labeled Asheville one of four high-priority plants where ash ponds had to be closed by 2019.

Apodaca has said his intent was to allow Duke more time to shut down its coal operation while building the gas plant at the same time.

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Twitter: @bhender

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