Duke Energy has agreed to pay an $84,000 fine and will speed up coal ash cleanups at three coal-fired power plants in western North Carolina. The proposed agreement with state environmental regulators deals with pollutants seeping from coal ash ponds near the Marshall plant on Lake Norman, the Allen plant in Gaston County and the Rogers plant in Rutherford County.
Under the so-called "special consent order," Duke will pay $4,000 each for 21 seeps at the three plants. And it agrees to finish draining the plants' coal ash ponds within the next few years - Rogers by March 31, 2020; Allen by June 30, 2020 and Marshall by March 31, 2021. Under state law, Duke has until 2029 to close coal ash basins at the three plants.
DEQ says the fine is comparable to those issued for similar violations, such as those at the Riverbend plant in Mount Holly.
'PAVES THE WAY' FOR CLOSURE
A Duke spokeswoman says the deal removes a key barrier to closing the sites.
"The Special Order by Consent provides clarity on how natural or un-engineered seeps from ash basins will be monitored and it paves the way for the state to issue nearly a dozen permits that the company must have before it can continue to de-water [drain] and close ash basins," Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Tuesday.
The agreement doesn't cover what are called "engineered seeps," which are allowed under other permits. It also says Duke can't be fined for new seeps discovered after Dec. 31, 2014.
DEQ and Duke say they expect to reach similar agreements for eight more coal plants in the state.
Duke already has the permits it needs for three of its 14 plants - Riverbend in Mount Holly, Sutton in Wilmington, and the Dan River plant in Rockingham County.
The agreement must be approved by the state Environmental Management Commission. The DEQ is accepting public comments by mail from Wednesday through Feb. 14. A public hearing is planned Feb. 13, at 6 p.m., at the Warren Citizen Center in Lincolnton.
Details of the public comment procedures and the draft order are on the DEQ website.