Duke to move some coal ash to clay mines near Sanford

Posted November 13, 2014 4:22 p.m. EST

Coal ash

— Duke Energy submitted plans Thursday to state environmental regulators regarding the removal of coal ash from four power plants deemed the highest risk of polluting groundwater or nearby surface waters.

Once the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources approves permits, Duke said it would move a total of 5.1 million tons of ash from the lagoons at Asheville Steam Electric Plant, Dan River Steam Station in Eden, Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly and L.V. Sutton Steam Electric Plant in Wilmington within 12 to 18 months.

That total is about 30 percent of the ash stored at the four plants. Under legislation passed this summer by state lawmakers, all of the coal ash at those plants must be removed by Aug. 1, 2019.

"We think these excavation plans go beyond the specific information requested by the state, demonstrating our commitment to closing ash basins in a way that continues to protect the environment, minimizes the impact to neighboring communities and complies with North Carolina's new coal ash management policies," John Elnitsky, Duke's senior vice president of ash basin strategy, said in a statement. "We are prepared to proceed as soon as we have the necessary approvals from the state."

Duke said about 3 million tons of ash from the Riverbend and Sutton plants would be put in open-pit clay mines in Sanford and Moncure as "engineered structural fill." The mines, which have been used by brick manufacturers, have layers of impervious clay that add environmental protections to the synthetic liner Duke plans to install, officials said.

Filling the clay mines with ash will help reclaim previously unusable land and will allow faster action than trying to site a new landfill, officials said, adding that proximity to rail lines will allow the company to minimize the use to trucks to move the ash.

The rest of the ash being excavated from the four plants will be sent to Roanoke Cement Co. for use in concrete blocks, to a lined landfill in Jetersville, Va., or to Asheville Regional Airport, which has an existing structural fill site.

"The initial work at these facilities will help us assess various approaches for the closure plans at our remaining 10 North Carolina facilities," Elnitsky said.

Duke also plans to update how it will handle the remaining 12 million tons of ash at the four plants as it works through plans for its other ash sites.

The state Coal Ash Commission, which was created by lawmakers this summer to set up a plan for disposing of ash from 33 ponds statewide, plans to hold its first meeting Friday in Chapel Hill.

Duke said it has 108 million tons of ash in basins across the state, as well as another 30 million tons in landfills and 14 million tons in other locations on plant property, such as structural fills or dry ash stacks.