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Greenpeace Protesters Occupy Progress Power Plant in Asheville

Early Monday morning, 16 Greenpeace volunteers breached security at a Progress Energy power plant near Asheville to protest coal-fired energy. The activists hoped to send a message to Progress and Duke Energy. The companies are attempting to merge. Greenpeace Spokeswoman Keillor MacDuff won't say how the protesters snuck past security at the power plant, but she says the 16 men and women are experienced climbers. They used harnesses and ropes to reach the top of one of the smokestacks 300 feet in the air, while several others dangled from a giant conveyor belt that feeds coal into the plant. "They all felt very strongly that it was time to send a message to Progress and to Duke Energy that coal is not the way to go for America," says MacDuff. "There are jobs and a really impressive future economy in renewable energy." The protest did not force the plant to shutdown. MacDuff says the Greenpeace protesters want Duke and Progress Energy to immediately stop using coal mined by mountaintop removal and to phase out all coal-fired power by 2030. Progress Energy spokesman Scott Sutton says the company purchases the cheapest, most efficient coal for its power plants, regardless of whether it was mined underground or on the surface. However, Progress has committed to closing 30% of its older coal-fired units in the Carolinas. The power plant targeted by Greenpeace activists is not on that list, says Sutton. "The Asheville Plant actually is one of the cleanest power plants in the nation because it was one of the first to install state-of-the-art scrubbers, which will greatly reduce the amount of emissions coming out of the stack," says Sutton. That's not enough for Greenpeace. Acts of civil disobedience are common for the group, but Macduff says the action in Asheville involved an unusually large number of protesters. By late Monday afternoon, police in climbing gear arrested all of them - but not before a giant banner was unfurled from the smokestack. It said "Duke Energy, the climate needs real Progress."