Duke Energy has proposed moving millions of tons of coal ash from waste ponds and using it to fill in old mines. So far, the plan has drawn support from frequent adversaries of the utility.
Duke says it has the perfect place to put about three million tons of ash: in old clay mines in Moncure and Sanford, a few dozen miles southwest of Raleigh. Right now, they are just open pits says Duke Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Jabon.
“The coal ash would basically be used to fill in that hole, and then soil would be added and additional vegetation so that land can eventually be reused, whereas otherwise that land was unusable,” says Jabon.
The ash will be wrapped in synthetic liners to prevent the toxic metals in it from leaking into groundwater. Duke says it will also send some to a landfill in Virginia, and it will continue to supply the Asheville airport, which has been using it as fill for years.
Environmental groups have criticized and even sued Duke for its handling of coal ash over the past few years. This time, they had something unusual for the power company—praise.
“This is a good first step,” says Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “All these sites are going to be lined. That’s perhaps as important as anything. The ash will be stored dry, not in a wet lagoon, that’s important. And the third important thing is it will be away from the very banks of these major rivers.”
If enacted, the plan would clean up about a third of the coal ash from Duke’s Dan River, Asheville, Sutton, and Riverbend coal plants. A state law passed in July requires removal of all ash from those sites within five years.
The company described the plan as a way to get a head start, while it figures out how to clean up the rest.
A spokesman for the state environmental agency says regulators are reviewing the plan, but it seems to be well-thought out.