North Carolina ranks 12th in the nation for carbon dioxide emissions, a Raleigh environmental advocacy group said this week on the eve of imminent federal rules to limit C02 emissions from power plants.
The data issued by Environment North Carolina is based on on 2011 greenhouse gas emissions from Duke Energy and Progress Energy coal-burning power plants, as reported by the utilities to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
However, the 2-year-old data is already out of date as the state's energy landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Progress Energy is phasing out aging coal-burning plants and shifting to natural gas as part of a corporate strategy to get ahead of greenhouse gas restrictions long expected from U.S. environmental regulators.
Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about to issue those rules Sept. 20. The emissions restrictions will apply to newly built power plants but not to existing plants.
Back in 2009, Raleigh-based Progress said it would dismantle 12 coal-burners at five sites, rather than retrofit those aging facilities with pollution controls. Progress is replacing the coal plants with three natural gas burners, which are much cleaner than coal, and planning to complete the shift by the end of this year.
Progress's C02 emissions have decreased 20 percent in the past five years, said spokeswoman Erin Culbert. The reduction is the result of fewer coal-burning plants and also reduced power use in the aftermath of the economic recession.
Progress a subsidiary of Charlotte-based Duke Energy as a result of a corporate merger completed last year.
The Environment North Carolina lists Duke's Belews Creek plant near Winston-Salem as the nation's 16th-worst emitter of carbon dioxide.
The worst is Georgia Power's Scherer plant, and most of the plants in the top ten are in Southern states.
Progress's Roxboro plant, south of the Virginia border, is ranked 32 and Duke's Marshall plant, north of Charlotte, is ranked 45.
Duke and Progress are not planning to shut down the big emitters. They are large, modernized facilities and not scheduled for retirement.
There is no commercially available technology for trapping or reducing C02 emissions. As such, any facility -- as well as any vehicle -- that burns fossil fuel emits carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide, a naturally occurring byproduct of decomposition, is considered a greenhouse gas because its accumulation in the atmosphere traps heat and is believed to contribute to climate change.