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Cleaner Air and Energy Are Coming to Southwest Ohio

Shannon Fisk

Posted July 21, 2011

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Residents of southwest Ohio will soon be able to breathe easier thanks to Duke Energy Ohio’s decision, announced last Friday afternoon, that it plans to retire the Walter C. Beckjord coal-fired power plant in 2015.  Once the plant is fully retired, residents of New Richmond, Ohio and surrounding areas will no longer be forced to inhale the more than 68,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 7,800 tons of nitrogen oxides that the plant emits per year.  Retiring the Beckjord plant will also protect our climate from more than four million tons of carbon dioxide every year, and will free up resources for Duke to invest in creating clean energy jobs in Ohio.  And while industry scare tactics suggest that the lights will go out if coal plants are retired, an expert analysis commissioned by NRDC in March 2011 found that the Beckjord plant could be retired without causing transmission grid reliability problems.

In its filing with the Ohio Public Utilities Commission announcing the planned retirement, Duke identifies new Clean Air Act regulations that have been or are being issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) as the primary cause for the retirement.  While opponents of the EPA contend that these regulations are harmful, the reality is that they will save tens of thousands of lives per year by requiring coal plants to either clean up their harmful air pollution or retire.  In fact, the retirement of Beckjord alone is expected to prevent 140 premature deaths, 220 heart attacks, and 2,300 asthma attacks per year.

These EPA regulations are also helping to trigger a much-needed modernization of our nation’s outdated energy system.  Our country is still littered with hundreds of coal-fired power units that were built in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s (the six units at Beckjord started operations between 1952 and 1969) yet lack pollution controls that have been commercially available for more than twenty years.  As a result of the EPA regulations, however, many of these units will finally install modern pollution controls or, better yet, they will be retired in favor of cleaner energy alternatives.

In order to fully seize the opportunity presented by the retirement of the Beckjord plant, it is critical that Duke and other decision makers in Ohio do two things:

1.      Ensure an equitable transition for New Richmond and the Beckjord employees – While the retirement of Beckjord is good for public health and clean energy development, it will likely have a significant impact on the schools, libraries, and other city services that the $1.5 million in taxes from the plant help to fund, and on the workers that Beckjord employs.  It is critical, therefore, for Duke to sit down with local officials, union representatives, and other interested parties to develop a plan for transitioning the Beckjord employees to other well-paying jobs, and to create a community benefits package that will bring replacement economic development and revenue to the local community. 

2.       Invest in clean energy development – While Duke has suggested that it will make up for the energy generation from the Beckjord plant by purchasing power from other existing plants or by building new natural gas facilities, the Beckjord retirement provides a great opportunity for Duke to increase its pursuit of energy efficiency, combined heat and power, and renewable energy resources.  Those energy sources would save money for ratepayers and generate jobs in Ohio, all while protecting public health and the environment.

Duke’s decision to retire Beckjord provides an opening for continuing Ohio’s transition to a clean energy economy.  For now, we are just happy that the residents of southwest Ohio will be able to breathe easier as that transition occurs.

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