When Progress Energy announced that it would shut down 11 coal-fired power plants at four North Carolina locations, including the Cape Fear plant in nearby Moncure, it was viewed as an environmental victory.
"It's good news for the environment of North Carolina and the world," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Age, and the expense of retrofitting older plants with flue-gas desulferizing equipment (scrubbers), made them expendable. Progress Energy has installed scrubbers at newer plants in Roxboro and Asheville to the tune of more than $2 billion in order to greatly reduce the amount of pollutants the coal plants normally belch out.
But Smith's celebration may be a bit premature, depending on how Progress Energy plans to replace the lost megawatts.
The company already has a new natural-gas generating plant in the works for Wayne County and more planned in the future. There's also a good possibility that biomass-fueled plants will be built at existing sites in Moncure and Lumberton.
Biomass is considered a renewable resource, but herein lies the rub. Wood and wood waste, the byproducts of processes like plywood and furniture manufacturing, are considered biomass. Among the many wonderful compounds found in this type of wood waste are chlorinated adhesives, the toxic glue isocyanate and urea formaldehyde (a harmful air pollutant). Burning wood with chlorine produces dioxins and furans. Seriously, this is clean energy?
The reason that Progress Energy is even considering retrofitting the Moncure and Lumberton sites with biomass burners is because they are both located near wood-processing facilities with abundant amounts of cheap fuel (wood waste).
Burning biomass will produce air carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, soot and ash. True, the acid-rain-producing sulfur dioxide emitted by coal-fired plants is missing from the biomass-fired process, but is this really progress, Progress Energy? Or is it just a dangerous trade-off?