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Durham nonprofit decries Duke Energy plant plans

The battle for efficient energy in North Carolina has long been waged between local power companies and environmental groups, but lately the issue has found a new audience among Duke students.

Duke Energy, which is one of the largest power companies in the nation, recently proposed plans for an expansion that would include the construction of a new plant outside of Charlotte, but protestors both on campus and off are lobbying in the name of the environment.

"Half of [the University's] endowment is in Duke Energy," said sophomore Kelsey Shaw, co-vice president of Environmental Alliance. "Not only are we customers, but we're investing in them."

Shaw and other EA members have protested the proposed Cliffside plant through call-ins and letters to Duke Energy and Governor Mike Easley. Shaw said it is important for students on both sides to express their views on the plant because of the University's ties with the power company.

The plant presents a more efficient alternative to Duke Energy's current coal facilities, which were built in the 1940s and lack stringent air-emissions controls, said Marilyn Lineberger, a spokesperson for Duke Energy.

"We consider [the new plants] a bridge to the future," she said.

Lineberger added that the new facility would be among the cleanest coal-burning plants in the nation and would allow Duke Energy to retire four of its older plants and reduce its impact on air, water and soil.

But many environmental groups said Duke Energy's promises of environmental stewardship ring hollow.

"[Duke Energy CEO] Jim Rogers is what we call a greenwasher," Shaw said. "When it comes to the environment, he'll say one thing and do another."

In a Jan. 17 letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, the North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network-a Durham-based nonprofit focused on energy issues-said the EPA should deny Duke Energy a permit to build the new coal-burning plant.

The letter is the latest chapter in a two-year feud between Duke Energy and local environmental groups over the corporation's plan to expand an existing steam facility at Cliffside.

The plant is environmentally irresponsible because it will emit six million tons of carbon dioxide annually, and the state should instead invest in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, said Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN.

"[Duke Energy] will receive a huge federal subsidy for the Cliffside projects," Warren said. "But the technology is worn out and decrepit. Why should the public have to subsidize that type of project?"

NC WARN wrote to the EPA that state government has not ensured that environmental regulations will be met.

"The question is whether [the national EPA] is going to let the state get away with this," Warren said.

The EPA has not yet responded to NC WARN's letter.


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