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Duke Energy sets aside $3.4B for coal ash cleanup

Posted November 6, 2014

Duke Energy closed its coal-fired power plant in Moncure in 2012. But lagoons of toxic coal ash remain on the site near the Cape Fear River.

— Duke Energy estimates that cleaning up its coal ash ponds across North Carolina will cost at least $3.4 billion.

The company recently set aside that amount to meet its "asset retirement obligations," or ARO, according to its third-quarter earnings report. Duke officials said that number is subject to revision.

"This estimate will be refined as ash basin closure plans and related strategies are finalized and approved," the company said in a statement.

The General Assembly passed legislation this summer setting a timetable for Duke to close and then cleanup the 33 ash ponds at 14 operating or shuttered coal-fired power plants statewide. The new law sets up a commission that will determine which ponds will be handled first, depending on the risk they pose in terms of groundwater contamination or a leak into nearby surface waters.

Duke executives told lawmakers that the final tally for cleanup could reach $10 billion if the company is required to dig up the ash from every pond and truck it to a lined landfill. Chief Executive Lynn Good said in March that Duke would try to pass along most of the cleanup cost to customers through higher electric rates.

Separately, North Carolina regulators ordered Duke on Thursday to resubmit proposals for assessing the extent of groundwater contamination at the ash ponds, calling the company's current plans, which were submitted in September, "inadequate."

The state Division of Water Resources has given Duke 30 days to file the amended plans. The company is required to perform the assessments under the new law.

Coal ash contains numerous toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and mercury. State regulators have said all of Duke's unlined waste pits are contaminating groundwater.

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  • velofellow Nov 6, 2014

    In December 2008, an impoundment at the TVA Kinston, TN steam plant released 4.2 million cubic yards of coal ash slurry. Many utilities across the country reacted by voluntarily initiating the closure of wet ash storage facilities, especially those near surface waters. Duke did nothing. In February 2014, a pipe failure at Duke's Dan River plant released at least 35,000 tons of ash to the Dan River. Other than responding to that release, Duke has done little to address their other ash storage facilities. Nowhere in this article is McCrory blamed for the release, though it is true that neither he nor his administration have been very forceful in compelling aggressive action by Duke. Duke and Progress Energy were aware of the significant potential for environmental impacts from these facilities prior to 2008 but have chosen to not respond.

  • SaveEnergyMan Nov 6, 2014

    This has been going on for over 50 years at some sites, so no one is to blame.

    The concentrations of heavy metals are fairly small, so I wonder about some other method to process out these elements from the inert stuff. An aqueous process using solubilities or ion exchange might be cheaper. Just a thought...

  • bmac813 Nov 6, 2014

    Lets see, In the 90's Hunt was Governor and they dumped Coal Ash, From 2000 to 2012 Easley was Governor and Coal Ash was Dumped, from 2008 to 2012 Perdue was Governor All Democrats, Now after all those Years the Pond can't take it any more and who gets the Blame, McCory because he is a Republican.
    I guess the Last 30 Years didn't count.