Special to Iredell Free News
State regulators, community groups and Duke Energy have agreed to a plan to permanently close the company’s remaining nine coal ash basins in the state, primarily by excavation with ash moved to lined landfills.
An agreement announced Monday by Duke Energy, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) and groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) details a plan for basin closure that continues to protect people, communities and the environment. The plan is consistent with the approach Duke Energy is taking to close ash basins in South Carolina and benefits customers and communities in both states.
“This agreement significantly reduces the cost to close our coal ash basins in the Carolinas for our customers, while delivering the same environmental benefits as full excavation,” said Stephen De May, North Carolina president of Duke Energy. “We are fully focused on these important activities and building a clean energy future for the Carolinas.”
Under the agreement, seven of the basins will be excavated, with ash moved to lined landfills, including two at the Allen Steam Station (Belmont), one at Belews Creek Steam Station (Belews Creek), one at Mayo Plant (Roxboro), one basin at the Roxboro Plant (Semora) and two at the Cliffside/Rogers Energy Complex (Mooresboro).
At the Marshall Steam Station (Terrell) and the Roxboro Plant, uncapped basin ash will be excavated and moved to lined landfills. At both locations, sections of the basins were filled with ash in the past. To make use of that space, state permitted facilities, including existing lined landfills, were built on top of those portions of the ash basins. Because the ash underneath is already covered, that material will not be disturbed and will be monitored and safely closed under other state regulations.
Under the plan, almost 80 million tons of ash will be excavated from the remaining sites. The company is already removing ash from basins at other facilities, bringing the total amount of material to be excavated in North Carolina to approximately 124 million tons.
The excavation is the largest coal ash clean up in the nation’s history and will result in more excavation than in four neighboring states combined, state officials said.
“North Carolina’s communities have lived with the threat of coal ash pollution for too long. They can now be certain that the clean-up of the last coal ash impoundments in our state will begin this year,” said NCDEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan. “We are holding Duke accountable and will continue to hold them accountable for their actions as we protect public health, the environment and our natural resources.”
The agreement calls for expedited state permit approvals which would keep projects on a rapid timeline with excavation at the six sites completed in 10 to 15 years.
The agreement also requires Duke to enter into a court-supervised consent order with NCDEQ and the community groups represented by Southern Environmental Law Center.
“This agreement is a historic cleanup of coal ash pollution in North Carolina, and the Department of Environmental Quality and community groups throughout the state have provided essential leadership in obtaining it,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents community groups in court seeking coal ash cleanups in North Carolina. “The water resources and families of North Carolina will benefit from this statewide coal ash cleanup for years to come.”
Local lawmakers praised the agreement.
“I’m extremely grateful for the settlement reached between DEQ and Duke Energy and that it was able to be done outside of court,” said Sen. Vickie Sawyer, a Republican who represents Iredell and Yadkin counties. “This monumental decision is a giant step forward in the process to clean up coal ash and protect North Carolinians. The additional protective measures specific to the Marshall Steam Plant are also a huge win for our community.”
Rep. Jeff McNeely, a Republican who represents Iredell, expressed a similar view of the agreement.
“The fact that this decision was agreed to outside of court means excavation of these sites, including the Marshall Steam Plant, will move forward much sooner,” McNeely said. “Although not everyone may be pleased with the decision, it is the best we could hope for to protect those in our community.”
The plan will reduce the total estimated cost to close the nine basins by about $1.5 billion, as compared to the April 1, 2019, NCDEQ order requiring full excavation. As a result, the estimated total undiscounted cost to permanently close all ash basins in the Carolinas is now approximately $8 billion to $9 billion, of which approximately $2.4 billion has been spent through 2019. Most of the remaining expenditures are expected to occur over the next 15-20 years.
The agreement also ensures that impacted groundwater is addressed and includes provisions to streamline the process for this important work. Drinking and recreational water supplies are safe now, and Corrective Action Plans will address groundwater at each site to ensure those supplies remain protected.
At Roxboro and Marshall, for example, Duke Energy will install specialized wells and other technology at specific locations to ensure that groundwater conditions improve and comply with standards by 2029, assuming plans are expeditiously approved by the state.
As previously announced, Duke Energy is closing all of its coal ash basins, including 31 in North Carolina. Basin excavation is completed or nearly completed at 10 basins at the Asheville Plant, Dan River Plant (Eden), Riverbend Steam Station (Mt. Holly), Sutton Plant (Wilmington), Weatherspoon Plant (Lumberton) and one basin at the Rogers Energy Complex. That material is being recycled or disposed of in lined landfills.
Material from 12 basins at Buck Steam Station (Salisbury), HF Lee Plant (Goldsboro) and Cape Fear Plant (Moncure) will be reprocessed and recycled into useful construction material. Recognizing that recycling is the only way to avoid permanent disposal of ash, the parties agree to explore opportunities to maximize recycling at those sites by extending closure deadlines to 2035.
The agreement completely resolves the pending disputes over ash basin closure plans being debated by the parties in various courts, including cases before the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings, North Carolina Superior Court and United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. The parties will make the necessary court filings to dismiss each case.
The public will have an opportunity to comment on the closure plans at public hearings near each of the six sites in February. Under CAMA, DEQ’s final action on the closure plans is due within 120 days of receipt of the complete closure plans. Within 60 days of approval, implementation of the plans must begin.
For more information on the entire settlement between DEQ and Duke, click HERE
About Duke Energy
Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), a Fortune 150 company headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., is one of the largest energy holding companies in the U.S. It employs 30,000 people and has an electric generating capacity of 51,000 megawatts through its regulated utilities, and 3,000 megawatts through its nonregulated Duke Energy Renewables unit.