DEQ cites Duke for leaky coal ash ponds

Posted March 4, 2016

Coal ash

— The state Department of Environmental Quality on Friday issued violations against Duke Energy for allowing wastewater to leak from coal ash basins at 12 facilities.

The violations were issued for unauthorized discharges of wastewater at the following Duke plants: Allen Steam Station, Asheville Steam Station, Belews Creek Steam Station, Buck Steam Station, Cape Fear Steam Electric Generating Plant, Cliffside Steam Station, Dan River Combined Cycle Plant, Lee Steam Electric Plant, Marshall Steam Station, Mayo Steam Electric Power Plant, Roxboro Steam Electric Plant and Weatherspoon Steam Electric Plant.

The violations, which may result in fines, require Duke to fix the problems and provide more data to the DEQ. The company has 30 days to respond.

Environmental regulators are reviewing additional scientific data and may issue more violations if they find that water quality standards are not being met, officials said.

Duke officials responded to the violations by noting "every earthen impoundment" leaks and that the water seeping from the ash ponds isn't harming water quality nearby.

"The best way to reduce or eliminate seeps altogether is to safely remove the water from ash basins and close them in ways that protect people and the environment. That’s exactly what Duke Energy is doing right now," the company said in a statement.

If the notices of violations do result in penalties, it won't be the first time the company has paid for its leaky, decades-old basins of coal ash, the byproduct of coal-burning energy production that contains arsenic, mercury and other toxic materials.

DEQ and Duke agreed last fall to a $7 million fine to settle lawsuits over coal ash leaks at all of its North Carolina plants, but a Superior Court judge ruled last month that regulators had overstepped their bounds by making the deal, which cut a fine imposed for leaks at the Sutton plant near Wilmington and expanded the settlement to other plants.

Coal ash has been a long-simmering problem in the state, but it was ignored by the general public until a Feb. 2, 2014, spill dumped 40,000 tons of the toxin-laced material into the Dan River from a shuttered Duke plant. Within months, state lawmakers had ordered Duke to close all North Carolina coal ash ponds between 2019 and 2029, and they created a commission to oversee the process.

The state last month fined the company $6.6 million for the pollution related to the Dan River spill. Duke also is paying $102 million in fines and restitution after pleading guilty last year to unlawful discharges from ash ponds at five plants across the state.

Read the notices of violation


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  • Doug Smallen Mar 7, 2016
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    Economics, it's cheaper to pay a fine than to dispose of the waste properly. Duke was recently caught red handed at Moncure pumping pond waste water straghit into the Cape Fear, knowing it was Illegal.

  • Russell Chapman Mar 4, 2016
    user avatar

    1) While these ash basins have existed for more than a century in some cases (Cape Fear Steam plant) it wasn't until recent history that regulations were put in place.
    2) Duke Energy Progress cannot simply raise rates to pay the fines. Rates are controlled by the State Commission as well as the federal government.
    3) No one complained when they were able to walk into a room in their house, flip and switch, and have light and energy. If it is so bad, why don't you walk outside and disconnect your power. Then we'll see how much you hate Duke then.

  • Larry Wiandt Mar 4, 2016
    user avatar

    And to top it off, they'll raise your electric rate to pay any fines and additional cost. It't good to be a monopoly.

  • Tom Haywood Mar 4, 2016
    user avatar

    That kind of rings hollow when it was Duke (or Progress Energy) who created the mess in the first place and allowed it to exist until it became a problem. It sounds to me like Duke can take up to 13 more years to get the mess completely cleaned up ... too long!