Earth & Energy

Sierra Club to target Duke plants with billionaire’s money

The Sierra Club says it will use some of a $30 million donation in a bid to shut down Duke Energy power plants near Charlotte and Asheville.

Bloomberg Philanthropies announced the donation Wednesday to Sierra’s Beyond Coal campaign, adding to an earlier $50 million contribution. It handles the charitable giving of billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The campaign aims to reduce carbon emissions linked to climate change by targeting coal-fired power plants.

Sierra claims the campaign has “secured retirement” of 3,000 megawatts of coal power in North Carolina, although the closures were actually prompted by federal clean-air standards and cheaper natural gas.

Duke has closed seven of its 14 coal-fired plants in North Carolina since 2011 while opening five new gas plants.

Sierra says its will use Bloomberg’s cash to press for two more shutdowns – of the Asheville plant and the Allen power plant on Lake Wylie.

Why those two?

State regulators have cited the Asheville plant for coal ash contamination of groundwater, said Kelly Martin, a Beyond Coal official for North Carolina, and Sierra has raised questions about its air emissions.

Asheville’s city council passed a 2013 resolution to transition away from coal-fueled energy. And Duke itself has said it would either convert the plant’s two units to dry ash handling or retire the units.

Martin said the Allen plant will be targeted because two of its five units rarely run. Like Duke’s other North Carolina plants, contaminated groundwater has been detected at Allen and Duke has reported illicit ash-pond seeps at the plant.