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FAQs Coal-Fired Plants

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Why does Duke Energy generate electricity with coal?

Coal is our nation's most abundant energy resource. According to the U.S. Energy Administration, the United States is home to the largest recoverable reserves of coal in the world. They estimate that we have enough coal to last several hundred years, based on current consumption levels.

Because of its relatively low cost and abundance, coal is used to create about half of the electricity generated in the United States. This availability and price stability play an important role in helping Duke Energy support economic growth in the regions it serves with a reliable and affordable supply of electricity.

But all coal is not created equal. The chemical makeup of coal varies across the country and transportation costs to deliver coal to our power plants are significant drivers of which type of coal is burned at what facility. These factors and others help determine what emissions are produced during combustion and, therefore, what kind of control technologies are needed at each facility.

Duke Energy has an aggressive fleet modernization program under way that has upgraded the larger coal units with sophisticated air quality controls, while we begin retiring older, less efficient coal units.

Are there environmental issues associated with using coal?

The same rich chemical composition making coal a valuable energy resource also creates byproducts. These include nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. Duke Energy recognizes that continuing to reduce power plant emissions is vital to improving air quality in the United States, and we have made significant improvements in reducing air emissions in the last decade.

You can learn more about Duke Energy’s commitment to the air quality and the environment in our latest Sustainability Report.

Each coal-fired plant has stringent water quality permits to ensure local waterways are protected. Duke Energy also carefully manages coal combustion residuals, such as fly ash and gypsum, and looks for opportunities to recycle these into other products to reduce the volume landfilled on site.

How long has Duke Energy used coal?

Duke Energy has been using coal to produce electricity in the Carolinas since 1911. Those first coal-fired plants (in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina) only supplemented the company’s use of hydroelectricity. In the 1920s, the growing demand for electricity began to outstrip the availability of hydroelectric generation.

Duke Energy began a shift to using coal as its primary energy source when Buck Steam Station, in Spencer, North Carolina, began producing electricity in 1926. With a station capacity of 369 megawatts of electricity, Buck could produce six times more electricity than the company’s largest hydroelectric generating station at the time—Wylie Hydroelectric Station, with a generating capacity of 60 megawatts.