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Report: NC Power Generation Draining State's Water Supply

Photo: Duke Energy's Coal fired power plant in Asheville. Courtesy: WNCA
Photo: Duke Energy's Coal fired power plant in Asheville. Courtesy: WNCA
July 18, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. - The need for clean water is in a tug of war with the demand for power in North Carolina and the rest of the Southeast. The outcome will make a big difference in the amount and quality of fresh water North Carolinians have for drinking and recreation, according to a national report released this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Coal-fired power generation requires billions of gallons of water every year. It amounts to 40 percent of the nation's fresh water, and southeastern plants are a major contributor to that statistic, said Sara Barczak, a program director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

"Our electricity infrastructure in the Southeast is very water intensive," she said. "We rely in the region on large coal and nuclear power plants that are water hogs."

North Carolina has 67 operational coal-fired power plants - double South Carolina's, triple the number in Virginia and six times as many as in Tennessee.

By 2050, natural gas is projected to supply 60 percent of the nation's power, which will reduce the water used for power generation and ease carbon emissions somewhat. However, Barczak said there still would be water contamination issues and the other environmental problems associated with fracking. She said focusing on renewable energy such as solar and wind would use less water, reduce carbon emissions even further and make the power industry less vulnerable to droughts, which have become more common.

"The business-as-usual path just isn't sufficient to make things happen," she said. "We shouldn't wait until 2040 or 2050 to realize these water-quality and water-supply benefits. Why not start implementing those things earlier?"

The 82 power plants in the Southeast currently generate 366 million tons of CO2 each year.

The full report is online at ucsusa.org.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC