A Duke Energy power plant and coal ash ponds outside Asheville.
Zen Sutherland

Duke Energy Progress says it will convert another power plant from coal to natural gas.

Duke Energy's plans for the facility at Lake Julian in Asheville are another indication that the energy giant is increasingly relying on natural gas, in part because of its falling price. 

The utility calls the transition for Asheville a "win-win:" cleaner energy and more jobs. Environmentalists say natural gas has its own negative consequences.

Photo: A Duke Energy coal-fired plant in Arden, N.C.
Michael Phillips via Creative Commons

The North Carolina House of Representatives has approved a plan to comply with proposed federal requirements to curb planet-warming carbon pollution from power plants.

House Bill 571 would create an advisory board comprised of energy companies and environmental advocates to advise the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The bill, approved in an 84-33 vote, now goes before the Senate.

Chad Stevens

Last weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia—the nation’s worst coal mine disaster in decades. Massey Energy, one of the largest American coal companies, ran the mine, and its CEO Don Blankenship has since been indicted on charges that he deliberately concealed health and safety violations at the mining site.

Diane Rehm
Glogau Photography

Did you miss it? The Diane Rehm Show devoted an episode earlier this week to the coal ash spill in Eden, NC.

(The spill was caused by a pipe failure at a Duke Energy location. Coal ash is leftover from the process of burning coal. The ash is considered toxic, and is held in ponds. This spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.)

This was an interesting part of the show, between Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center and Diane Rehm:

Riverbend Steam Station, a coal-fired generating facility in Gaston County, NC.  Riverbend will be retired by 2015 as part of Duke Energy’s strategy to modernize its power plants.
Duke Energy via Flickr, Creative Commons

A new study from Duke University says new air quality standards could spur a shift away from coal power to natural gas as a means of generating electricity.  A natural gas boom has already made it almost as cheap as coal to turn into electricity, but when researchers factored in new emissions standards from the Environmental Protection Agency, they found that most coal electricity will become as expensive as gas, even if gas prices rise.

Progress Energy will close one of its older coal-fired plants tomorrow.

Officials with the Duke Energy subsidiary say the Lee plant near Goldsboro is one of four coal plants it will retire by the end of next year. The company will replace each of them with natural gas facilities designed to cut back on environmental emissions. Progress Energy spokesman Mike Hughes says it's part of a fleet modernization program begun three years ago.

Emissions of toxic mercury from North Carolina coal-fired power plants have dropped significantly in the last decade.

Jeff Tiberii: In 2002 the General Assembly enacted the Clean Smokestack Act, aimed at cutting emissions. The North Carolina Division of Air Quality says the result is a 70-percent drop in toxic mercury entering the atmosphere. Tom Mather is with the division.

Roy Cooper

A settlement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority includes a payment to North Carolina. The TVA agreed to implement better emissions technology at all of its coal-fired plants including the four closest to North Carolina. Attorney General Roy Cooper filed a lawsuit against the TVA in 2006.

Progress Energy will shut down a coal-fired plant near Lumberton six years ahead of schedule.

Progress Energy spokesman Drew Elliot says the plant has provided more than a half century of reliable service: