Duke Energy vague on future of NC coal ash ponds

Posted March 13, 2014

A coal ash pond at the former Lee Steam Station near Goldsboro sits along the Neuse River.

— State regulators say Duke Energy hasn't provided enough information regarding the utility's plans for handling toxic waste at its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.

After a Feb. 2 ash spill in the Dan River, Gov. Pat McCrory and the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources gave Duke a March 15 deadline to provide detailed plans for how the company plans to protect the environment around its 32 ash ponds at 14 sites statewide.

Duke President and Chief Executive Lynn Good sent McCrory and DENR Secretary John Skvarla a four-page letter Wednesday outlining short- and long-term plans for the ash ponds, but Skvarla responded Thursday that he finds the letter lacking.

"Duke Energy’s response is inadequate," Skvarla said in a statement. "There are far too many questions left unanswered, and Duke Energy should provide the information we originally requested, including the estimated costs of cleanup, plans for the future and a detailed timeline."

DENR plans to enforce "mechanisms to not only derive the necessary information but to also enforce stringent timelines for fulfillment and completion of Duke Energy’s obligations to protect public health and the environment," he said.

Coal ash Coal ash ponds located across NC

Environmental groups applauded Good for Duke's efforts to clean up the Dan River spill, but they also said the company needs to take more decisive steps on its other ash ponds.

"While the letter offers hints of real promise," D.J. Gerken, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement, "Duke offers cold comfort to the many other North Carolina communities living with the contamination and hazards of Duke’s unlined coal ash pits."

Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club called Duke's plans "a good first step," but said it "does not fully rise to the challenge presented."

"Without more information, North Carolinians cannot be sure that their right to clean, safe drinking water will be protected. Without a clear commitment, hard-working families cannot be sure that one of the nation’s most prosperous companies won’t pass the buck," Martin said in a statement.

Good said Duke plans to move the ash from the spill site near Eden to a lined landfill or "structural fill solution" as soon as it can get the necessary permits, completing the move in 24 to 30 months. Ash from ponds in Gaston County and Asheville also would be moved to lined pits, and the company is considering such a solution for ash ponds in Wilmington, she said.

Duke also plans to dry out the ash in the ponds at all other retired power plants to minimize the risk of leaks and is conducting an engineering study of every ash pond to identify and address any other environmental risks. The company expects to finish the engineering studies by November and the de-watering process in three years, Good said.

She provides little detail, however, regarding the company's long-term plans, saying the company won't have those plans ready until the end of the year.

"This strategy will include a review of active ponds, inactive ponds and closure strategies for the remaining retired plants, will be informed by outside experts, and will include a risk-informed, tiered approach," she wrote. "The work will include a review of the effectiveness of ash storage management programs and practices to confirm that longer-term solutions are sustainable and lessons learned are captured for company-wide application. This comprehensive strategy will evaluate options up to and including complete conversion to all dry handling."

Duke needs to consider federal and state permits, transportation issues and local response in trying to dispose of the coal ash, Good said, which will affect how long actions take to complete as well as the cost.

She has said the utility plans to pass as much of the cost of disposing the ash through to customers as higher electric rates, although the company itself would pick up the tab for cleaning up the Dan River spill.


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  • Judy Fergerson Mar 17, 2014
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    The state utility commission allowed the merger of Progress Energy and Duke. The shareholders should expect lower returns on investment while Duke cleans up THEIR mess and pays for the cleanup out of their pocket. Not one former Progress Energy customer should have to spend a DIME to clean it up since the problems existed prior to the merger. As a former Duke Energy big wig if Pat McCrory allows Duke Energy to have its citizens of North Carolina to pay for Duke Energy's failure to protect the environment via a hike to our electricity bills we voters WILL KNOW we made a bad choice in electing him as governor.

  • Ty Shrake Mar 14, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    if the heavy metal concentration matched normal coal ash concentrations I WOULD drink it because it's no worse than the concentrations in normal soil.

  • rushbot Mar 14, 2014

    View quoted thread

    i wish we could take a sample of the river water upstream from the toxic plume...and another downstream....separate out the arsenic and heavy metal of each sample...then take the arsenic and heavy metal from downstream...mix it with distilled water and give it to you for your drinking water...i bet you would not drink it...at all....

  • Ty Shrake Mar 14, 2014
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    View quoted thread

    Your 'information' is from EarthJustice... hardly a balanced source. Second, they link to nonexistent documents.

    Here is what the EPA itself has to say about CCRs (coal ash), with a working link:

    "CCRs typically contain a broad range of metals, including arsenic, selenium, and cadmium; however, the leach levels, using EPA's Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) (PDF) (35 pp, 287 KB), rarely reach the Resource and Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste characteristic levels."


  • 42_wral_mods_suck_i'm_gone Mar 14, 2014

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    Ash is finer and more porous then soil. When water flows through it, the toxins are more readily picked up and contaminate ground water.

    EPA’s Science Advisory Board and the National Academy of Sciences have determined that the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) does not accurately predict the toxicity of coal ash. When tested with EPA’s new, more accurate test, coal ash leached arsenic at up to 18,000 parts per billion (ppb), which is 1,800 times the federal drinking water standard and over 3 times the hazardous waste threshold. So yes it's a FACT coal ash is hazardous .

  • 42_wral_mods_suck_i'm_gone Mar 14, 2014

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    Yes but NOT the run-off. That's the key. You can't let those toxins leave the site. Why do you think the coal ash ponds in SC are being moved to LINED landfills. Just for kick and giggles? Cause it's as safe a regular soil.

  • 1jalapeno Mar 14, 2014

    How come we don't see trees, weeds, bushes, and other living things growing in and around coal ash ponds. Ever go fishing in one? Must be all the rich soil like sediments and pure water found in and around them. Or maybe Duke Progress likes to keep them in pristine condition.

  • Ty Shrake Mar 14, 2014
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    No, I'm not a DE stockholder. Never even looked into it, frankly. All I did was present facts, none of which you or any other hyperventilating Progressive has refuted. Are you going to say the EPA is WRONG and that coal ash is way more toxic than they determined? I gave you the ACTUAL FACTS. Try addressing them instead of attacking me personally. Can you do that?

  • downeast2 Mar 14, 2014

    Ahh......I get it now, Wood Chipper. You are a Duke Energy stockholder. It took me a while, I'm kinda slow, but it's clear now.

  • Ty Shrake Mar 14, 2014
    user avatar

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    No, even without the coal ash. But read the actual facts about coal ash toxitcity. I've already posted references. It isn't exactly nuclear waste. It has about the same toxicity as normal ground soil. Don't take my word for it... ask the EPA. They said so themselves.