Duke to close coal-fired generators to settle EPA lawsuit
Posted September 10, 2015
Charlotte, N.C. — Duke Energy and the U.S. government have agreed to end a 15-year fight over alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act at some of the company's coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.
As part of a settlement agreement filed Thursday in federal court in Greensboro, Duke will close three units at its Allen Steam Station plant in Belmont by the end of 2024, pay a $975,000 civil penalty and spend $4.4 million on environmental projects and donations.
"The settlement announced today marks another milestone in our ongoing efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act and reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants," Assistant U.S, Attorney General John Cruden said in a statement. "This settlement is a just and fair resolution to this long-running enforcement action in which we alleged that Duke modified these plants in ways that significantly increased their annual emissions. It is good news for the environment and public health in North Carolina."
Duke officials maintain they complied fully with federal law and didn't violate the Clean Air Act at the utility's plants, but they said they are settling the case solely to avoid the costs and uncertainties of continued litigation. Defending the lawsuit, which was set for trial next month, would eventually exceed the costs of the settlement agreement, they said.
The settlement still must be approved by a federal judge.
The Justice Department sued Duke in 2000 on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, alleging that Duke made "major modifications" at 25 coal-fired units without obtaining permits or installing the "best available emission controls," as required.
Duke insisted that the projects were "routine" and didn't result in a net increase in emissions, so none of the work violated the law.
The government subsequently dismissed claims against 12 of the 25 units, and Duke closed 11 others. Two of the three Allen plant units are the only ones that remain part of the lawsuit.
Duke agreed to comply with new, lower emissions limits at those two units over the next nine years until they are closed. The company said no workers would be laid off in connection with the shutdowns.
The EPA estimated that the settlement would reduce emissions by approximately 2,300 tons per year from the three Allen units.
The $4.4 million the utility agreed to spend would be divided as follows:
- Up to $600,000 for clean energy and energy-efficiency projects in economically distressed counties in North Carolina and South Carolina.
- At least $500,000 to replace wood-burning stoves with lower-emission residential heating appliances in North Carolina mountain counties and large cities.
- $175,000 donated to the U.S. Forest Service
- $175,000 donated to the National Park Service
- All remaining funds would go toward installing across North Carolina by 2020 multiple electric vehicle charging stations and/or electrical infrastructure at highway rest areas and truck stops to power parked trucks' cabs and cargo areas so drivers can turn off their engines and eliminate emissions.