A judge in Wake County has approved a settlement between state environmental officials, environmental groups and Duke Energy that requires Duke to dig up nearly 80 million tons of coal ash at six plants around the state.
The Dec. 31 agreement includes cleanups at the Allen Plant in Gaston County, Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman and sites in Forsyth, Person, and Cleveland counties. All were the subject of an ongoing legal battle between the state -- which ordered the cleanups last year -- and environmentalists and Duke.
The approval by Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway means Duke will have to heed the state's order to move ash to new, lined landfills. It also puts an end to all lawsuits related to Duke's coal-ash sites.
Coal ash is what's left over after coal is burned for energy. It contains chromium, vanadium and other heavy metals that can cause cancer in high concentrations.
In April, the state ordered Duke to excavate and safely dispose of the ash at the six plant sites. It set a deadline of 2029, which Duke fought. The final agreement extends that deadline to 2035.
Duke says it expects to save $1.5 billion thanks to the agreement. The company says it has spent $2.4 billion over the past few years on other cleanups, and estimates it will spend $8 billion to $9 billion total for all its sites.
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is holding hearings in the coming weeks on Duke's cleanup plans. Those include Feb. 26 in Catawba County on the Marshall plant and Feb. 27 in Belmont on the Allen plant.
Duke Energy issued a statement on the decision: "We are very pleased to bring this matter to a close and fully focus on building the cleaner energy future our customers want and deserve. The landmark agreement between Duke Energy, the environmental regulator and environmental community enjoys support across North Carolina and serves as a powerful example of what's possible when we work together to protect people and the environment while managing costs."