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Duke Plans To Leave Coal Ash In Place At 6 Plants

Trucks move coal ash at Duke's Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman. The company plans to cover ash in place at the plant.
David Boraks
Trucks move coal ash at Duke's Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman. The company plans to cover ash in place at the plant.

Duke Energy plans to leave coal ash in place at North Carolina coal ash basins where it hasn't already announced closure plans. Duke announced those plans Friday to comply with federal coal ash cleanup rules.  

Because of state law, court orders or legal settlements, we already knew Duke would have to dig up ash at eight of its 14 North Carolina plants, and move it to new, lined landfills. Those include the Riverbend Plant in Gaston County and the Buck plant in Salisbury.

But thanks to federal EPA rules, we now know Duke's plans for remaining six plants: leaving the coal ash where it is and covering it with waterproof covers and soil.

Those include:

  • The Allen plant on the Catawba River in Mount Holly.
  • Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman
  • Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County.
  • Mayo Steam Electric Plant in Person County
  • Roxboro Steam Plant in Person County.
  • The Cliffside plant in Rutherford and Cleveland counties.

Under itsCoal Combustion Residual rules adopted last year, the EPA required utilities to reveal by this month how they plan to clean up coal ash, the residue left after burning coal for electricity.

Utilities are required to publish their plans and documents on a public website, which Duke has been doing over the past month.

In the latest filing Friday, Duke said that overall it plans to excavate ash at 34 sites in the Carolinas, Kentucky and Indiana. It plans to cap ash in place at another 18 basins.

"We will be capping about 70 percent of the material, and excavating about 30, which is fairly consistent with what you're seeing with other utilities across the nation," spokeswoman Erin Culbert said.  

The EPA says utilities can choose either method. 

Environmentalists want all the ash removed. They say it's a danger to groundwater and waterways because it contains cancer causing heavy metals.  

Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center said Duke's plans aren’t necessarily the final word. The center has won lawsuits that require Duke to excavate coal ash at other North Carolina plants, and more are still in court.

“We have litigation pending for all remaining six sites and we may add more litigation to that to try to get Duke to the right thing. And those cases are not over,” Holleman said.

Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins said Duke already is under order to remove coal ash at many of its North and South Carolina plants. “There's no reason to leave the remaining six sites behind, especially the two around the Catawba River around Charlotte,” he said.

The EPA cleanup rules also don't go as far as North Carolina law. Duke still has to convince state regulators it has repaired leaking and unsound coal ash dams before it can cap the ash in place here.

The cleanups come with a big cost. The company already has spent about $700 million dollars and expects to spend another $5.5 billion in the coming years - $4.5 billion of that in North Carolina.

Duke plans to ask regulators for rate increases pay for it.   

“It is our position that this is part of the life cycle of a plant,” Culbert said.

She noted that state regulators have already approved plans by Virginia-based Dominion Energy to recover coal ash removal costs from its customers in northeastern North Carolina.


Nov. 11, 2016, Duke-Energy.com,"Safe Basin Closure Update: Duke Energy posts coal ash basin closure plans" - News announcement, with link to a list of closure plans. 

Duke-Energy.com website with plans and documents for complying with EPA’s Coal Combustion Residual rule. 

Duke website detailing its coal ash sites, https://www.duke-energy.com/ash-management/

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.