Riverbend power plant in Mount Holly, NC, whose eight smokestacks towered over Mountain Island Lake for 84 years, will come down in 2016, Duke Energy officials said.

Riverbend shut down in April as part of Duke’s move to retire old coal-fired plants rather than update them with new air emission controls. Seven of its 14 coal plants in North Carolina will end up retired by the end of this year.

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Completed in 1929, Riverbend is one of Duke’s oldest plants but in recent years had produced power only at times of peak demand.

Coal has become a target of environmentalists over mining practices, air emissions and ash. Duke, meanwhile, is increasingly moving to natural gas to generate electricity because fuel costs have dropped and gas produces fewer emissions.

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Duke will start removing gas-fired combustion turbine units, coal handling equipment, Riverbend’s water tower and asbestos this fall. Then electrical equipment will end up relocated.

In 2016, Duke will take out remaining powerhouse equipment and then take down the powerhouse and chimneys, possibly by imploding them.

The most closely-watched decision on Riverbend and other retired Duke coal plants will be how its unlined ash basins close off. Studies on that will start in 2014, said Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert.

Ash contains metals that can be toxic in high doses. Groundwater has suffered contamination around all 14 of Duke’s N.C. unlined ponds, although it’s not clear how much occurred naturally.

Duke is considering three options for closing the ponds: Removing the water and capping the remaining ash in place, removing and landfilling the ash or a combination of the two. The state has final approval on the closure method.

Transmission lines and associated equipment will remain at Riverbend, but the rest of the site will end up graded and planted in grass, Duke said. The company will continue to own the site.

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