By: Valerie Jaffee
Just last week, Asheville took a big step for Southern cities—it voted to transition off of coal to clean energy sources. In a unanimous vote, the Asheville City Council approved a resolution to phase out Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plant in the city. For North Carolina, where 40 percent of our electricity comes from coal, this could signal a major shift toward less polluting power.
Around the state, coal plays a major role in keeping our economy running. But along with lighting our homes and businesses, coal plants release air pollution that can endanger our health, the landscape, and the planet.
Coal-fired plants produce 84 different types of hazardous air pollutants, according to the American Lung Association. These include acid gases, like hydrogen chloride, along with lead, arsenic, and mercury. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with asthma or cardiovascular diseases are particularly at risk.
Is there a coal-fired plant near where you live? Each black marker above shows a coal-fired plant in NC.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
Burning coal also produces carbon pollution, which travels up to the atmosphere and traps in heat, driving climate change. In fact, the Asheville Coal Plant remains the largest source of carbon pollution in Western North Carolina. Each year, the plant releases as much carbon dioxide as nearly 500,000 cars, according to the Sierra Club.
The question now is how, nationwide, we can transition our electricity sector off of coal and onto cleaner sources of energy. It won’t be immediate – coal is still responsible for about 37% of the electricity generated in the United States. But already, we are seeing a big move to natural gas due to dropping gas prices. And renewables are adding power to the electric grid at a higher rate than coal and nuclear combined.
As we move from coal to other sources, we’ll need to ensure that coal workers have opportunities for other jobs. That’s why Asheville’s resolution establishes a partnership between the city and Duke Energy, laying the groundwork for a smooth transition for workers.
The coming months and years will tell whether Asheville can smoothly make the switch to cleaner fuels. The city has committed to be a strong leader in the fight against climate change. Now, Asheville must put its money where its mouth is, developing fuel sources that are better for the environment and the local economy.