Announcement Nears For Duke's Coal Ash Basin Closure Plans
New EPA rules require power plant operators nationwide to rate the safety risks of coal ash dams and say how they plan to clean up coal ash basins. Here in the Carolinas, Duke Energy has begun publishing some information. But closure plans won't be made public until next month.
The EPA rule says utilities can close coal ash basins by moving ash elsewhere, or covering it where it is. Plant operators had until last Monday, Oct. 17, to draw up closure plans. They have another month to make them public.
Some information won't be new. Because of state law and court orders, we already know Duke Energy plans to excavate and remove coal ash at eight of its 14 North Carolina plants. Those include Riverbend on the Catawba River and the Buck plant in Salisbury.
But Duke hasn't published plans yet for coal ash basins at six other North Carolina plants, including the Allen plant in Belmont and Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman. It has until November 16 to do that.
Some utilities in nearby states have already posted their plans. Dominion Energy will drain and cover most of its coal ash ponds in Virginia. American Electric Power will do the same with plants in West Virginia and Kentucky.
The EPA requires closure plans and other coal ash safety data to be posted on special websites. Duke's is up and running, and a few documents area already posted. Among those: hazard ratings for coal ash dams.
Most Duke plants - including the six with closure plans still up in the air - are rated as "high" or "significant" hazards. Under the EPA rule, high hazard sites pose a risk to human life if the dams fail. Significant risk means failure could lead to economic and environmental damage.
Frank Holleman, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, says the ratings show dams are a risk.
"What we've seen is they (Duke) have to acknowledge that all their remaining coal ash dams, where they're not planning to remove the coal ash, all of which are by rivers and lakes, pose either a high hazard, or a significant hazard, to North Carolina, its communities and its waterways," Holleman said.
Under revisions this year to the state's coal ash law, Duke can seek permission to leave coal ash where it is at the remaining six sites. But only if it repairs dams so they’re "low risk."
Duke Energy website with information required under the EPA’s Coal Combustion Residuals rules. https://www.duke-energy.com/environment/reports/ccr-compliance.asp
EPA.gov, list of public websites with utilities' Coal Combustion Residuals plans and data.