Earth & Energy

Asheville power plant emissions are up, advocates say

Duke Energy’s Asheville power plant presents problems other than coal ash, says the Sierra Club and an Asheville environmental group, MountainTrue.

The groups released a report last week, by a private consultant, that found the coal-fired plant is releasing too much sulfur dioxide. Models show emissions have violated the federal one-hour standard about one out of every three days since mid-2010, it said.

A separate report commissioned by the group says the high emissions come from Duke apparently operating pollution controls called scrubbers, which catch SO2, less than fully. Duke also appeared to switch to a cheaper coal with higher sulfur content, the report added.

Duke, in response, didn’t deny the scrubber findings but said the power plant still meets air-quality standards.

The company acknowledged that, during a time when the plant burned low-sulfur coal, it “paused” one of the scrubber pumps that circulate the limestone-water slurry that removes sulfur dioxide. When the plant started burning a higher-sulfur coal, it resumed use of the pump.

Duke said the computer models used for the SO2 emissions study tend to overstate impacts, especially in mountain areas with unpredictable weather.

“As a regulated utility, we have to balance costs to customers while also complying with all environmental standards,” Duke said in a statement. “And this is an example of operating our system efficiently and managing costs to the benefit of customers.”

The advocacy groups say there’s no benefit to the people who live near the power plant in south Asheville and the communities of Fairview and Leicester.

Sulfur dioxide triggers asthma attacks and can worsen other breathing problems, the groups quote a retired emergency room physician as saying. Nearly 20,000 children and adults in Buncombe County suffer from asthma, according to the American Lung Association.