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Another enviro challenge to Duke's Cliffside plant

Environmental groups have filed another legal challenge to the new coal-fired unit Duke Energy is building at the Cliffside Power Plant west of Charlotte. WFAE's Julie Rose reports: Until now, the main challenges to Duke's new coal-fired unit at Cliffside have been about the amount of pollution the plant will be allowed to emit. Now the environmental group known as NC WARN is asking the North Carolina Utilities Commission to return to square one and re-evaluate the original approval it gave for the Cliffside plant two years ago. NC WARN attorney John Runkle says since then, a state law has passed that says the utilities commission can revoke permission to build a new plant if changes in the electricity market prove the plant's no longer needed. "Since March 2007, there have been a number of significant changes in the energy picture," says Runkle. "Our bottom line is this plant - because of these subsequent changes - is not in the public interest. And any further expenditures of money would be imprudent and unreasonable." Runkle says those changes include a shift toward more conservation and away from coal as an energy source. Federal climate change legislation could also make it more expensive to operate coal-fired units. Still, Duke Energy spokesman Jason Walls says the Cliffside unit is necessary to meet customer demand. "Both energy efficiency and renewable energy projects will also be part of our energy future," says Walls "But even the recent fluctuations in energy demand do not impact the need to plan long-term and to build new generation." Walls says the Cliffside unit will burn coal more cleanly than older, higher polluting plants it's being built to replace. Legal challenges from environmental groups have thus far been unsuccessful in halting construction on the Cliffside unit, which is one-third complete and set to begin operating in 2012.