North Carolina, Duke Energy seek to close out coal ash dispute

Regulators in North Carolina have reached a proposed agreement with Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) subsidiaries, which involves a $99,000 fine, over wastewater discharges from two coal-fired power plants in the state.

The state Division of Water Quality said July 15 that it is seeking public comment on a proposed consent order between the state, Duke Energy Progress and Duke Energy Carolinas for claims related to the discharge of wastewater from the Asheville power plant in Buncombe County and the Riverbend station in Gaston County.

The state is seeking public comment until Aug. 14.

When contacted July 16, Duke issued a statement saying, among other things, that it does not believe the power plants have hurt local drinking water quality. “Water quality remains good, fish are healthy and we have no indication to suggest any concern for neighboring drinking water supplies,” the company said.

“We all share the same objectives in protecting water quality, which is reflected in this agreement,” Duke said. “By the end of this year, Duke Energy will have retired seven of its 14 North Carolina coal plants as part of modernizing our fleet and building cleaner plants. The ash basins at those retired sites will be closed according to state and federal regulations.”

Agreement lays out fine, monitoring requirements

The water quality division, which is part of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the proposed order includes a timeline of required activity. The state had filed for injunctive relief in two different North Carolina counties as a result of the alleged violations.

The proposed consent order imposes a total initial monetary fine of $99,111.72. In addition, if the companies fail to comply in a timely manner with any provision of the consent order (including the timely submission of any document or plan and the completion of any activity), they would be subject to fines of  $1,000 per day for the first 30 days, and $5,000 per day thereafter for each violation.

The state agency said that at both coal plants, monitoring of groundwater at each plant’s compliance boundary revealed levels of chemical constituents that exceed requirements for groundwater protection. Also, state water quality inspectors believe that seeps, or releases of liquids not authorized as part of the permitted discharges, have occurred at both plants.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) had filed suit in federal court in June claiming that Duke discharges were hurting Mountain Island Lake, the source of drinking water for people in the greater Charlotte, N.C., area. The suit claimed Duke Energy has discharged toxic metals and other harmful substances from coal ash in unlined lagoons from the Riverbend plant, which is now closed. SELC could not immediately be reached for comment July 16 on the proposed Duke Energy settlement.

The proposed consent order itself says that Duke has been making an effort to upgrade the Asheville ash ponds since 2006. Since 2011, the state has been working with Duke to ensure compliance at the Riverbend plant, according to the order.

In addition to monitoring and remediation, Duke must also sample certain water wells selected by the state to assess if coal combustion residue is present in the wells. (This requirement will only apply to wells for which access is granted by the landowner.)

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.