Dellinger said the expansion could have a severe impact on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and that any new coal-fired facility should be a last resort. He is a Durham lawyer and former legal counsel to Gov. Mike Easley.
"There is no overriding reason to grant a state permit now, and plenty of good reasons not to," he said in a statement e-mailed to the Observer. The proposed expansion has led to a major fight between Duke, which says it's the best way to provide electricity to a growing region, and environmentalists pushing for alternatives. The N.C. Division of Air Quality is considering whether to issue a per it allowing the expansion at Duke's Cliffside site in Rutherford County.
Dellinger's statement injects the issue into the Democratic primary, where the environment could be a concern for voters. He contrasted his position with that of state Sen. Walter Dalton, D-Rutherford, who is also running for lieutenant governor. Dalton supported Duke's initial plan to build two coal-fired power plants at the Cliffside site, and Dalton's campaign released statement standing by that decision.
"The new plant at Cliffside will be much more efficient and will burn cleaner coal," thereby reducing certain types of emissions, Dalton said. Emissions of carbon dioxide, though, will more than double.
Following Dellinger's statement, two other candidates, Winston-Salem City Councilor Dan Besse and Canton Mayor Pat Smathers, also said they oppose the Cliffside project. Besse, a longtime environmental activist, said he welcomed Dellinger as a "new arrival" to the debate.
"We need to be certain that we exhaust the potential from alternative energy and renewable sources before we make the massive investment required for new coal and nuclear plants," Besse said, citing a new state law that shifts the investment to ratepayers. Smathers said he supports coal only on an interim basis until alternatives are developed.
Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless said the company is willing to discuss the plan with any candidates for public office. "We think we've made a strong case for it, and we'd be happy to discuss the pros about the project," Wheeless said. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue is running for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2008 against State Treasurer Richard Moore. They haven't yet taken a public position on the Cliffside plant. The primaries are set for May 6.