CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Duke Energy is closing some of the oldest power plants in North Carolina.
The Charlotte Observer reports that the Riverbend plant west of Charlotte and Buck plant in Rowan County will close in April. The plants opened in the 1920s and were some of the first to bring electricity to the state.
Both plants had been set to be shut down in 2015, but Duke Energy officials said access to newer Progress Energy plants after the utilities merged and a shift to gas power plants because of falling natural gas prices led to the earlier closings.
Environmentalists are happy to see the coal plants close, but said they will monitor what the company does with the leftover coal ash to make sure it doesn’t seep into drinking water.
“We’re glad to see that the air in this community will be cleaner after April. We’ll also try to make sure Duke properly retires its ash ponds, which are seepable into our drinking water. We don’t see this as an end to our mission by any means,” said Sara Behnke, founder of We Love Mountain Island Lake, a community group created last spring in response to the Riverbend plant.
The closing of the two plants goes along with Duke Energy’s plans to shut down more than 3,800 megawatts of older coal- and oil-fired generation by the end of 2013. The utility has a long-term plan to retire older, less efficient plants that make up to 6,800 megawatts of electricity.
Buck was Duke Energy’s first large-scale plant. It began operating in 1926. Its first two units retired in 1979, and two more units shut down in 2011. Units 5 and 6 will retire in April. Three gas units were shut down last October.
Riverbend was opened in 1929. Three units were shut down in the 1970s, and the remaining four units will be retired in April. Four smaller gas-fired units retired last October.
“These stations played pivotal roles in the 1920s and 1930s in helping to electrify the industries and homes of the Carolinas, and we honor all those employees who contributed their time and talents over the years to ensure safe, reliable operations,” Keith Trent, chief operating officer of Duke Energy’s regulated utilities, said in a statement.
The utility said it would try to find new positions within the company for the 65 people who work at the plants that will be shut down.