Enviro groups pressure Duke Energy on coal ash seepage at shut Buck plant

Coal ash leaks have been discovered at Duke Energy’s (NYSE: DUK) Buck Power Plant, which is going into the adjacent Yadkin River, conservation groups said Dec. 4.

They said that recent testing confirmed that the coal ash seeps – which have not been previously identified or publicly disclosed by Duke Energy or the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources – contain high levels of pollutants such as arsenic, lead, and selenium. Duke Energy is already under regulatory pressure to clean up coal ash sites due to a very public spill of coal ash earlier this year at its shut Dan River power plant in North Carolina.   

In mid-November, Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper discovered a quarter-mile long area of orange-colored leakage located below the normal waterline of the Yadkin River adjacent to the coal ash impoundments at Duke’s Buck Station, which is located in central North Carolina near Salisbury, said the Southern Environmental Law Center in a Dec. 4 statement. When the Yadkin River is at normal water levels, this coal ash pollution continues to flow into the river but is hidden from public view, it added.  

“This new evidence confirms the extent and magnitude of the coal ash pollution leaking into the Yadkin River,” said John Suttles, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper with respect to the coal ash storage and pollution at the Buck facility. “The volume and level of pollution from Duke’s leaky coal ash lagoons will require more than a band aid solution to protect the River and nearby communities.”

“It was deeply unsettling to find that known coal ash contaminants have been leaking directly into the Yadkin river below the waterline for an undetermined period of time,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Will Scott. “We hope that Duke Energy will take these new leaks as evidence that the only way to protect the Yadkin River from further contamination is to move the ash from Buck to safe, lined storage.”

“Riverkeepers across North Carolina have found dozens of toxic leaks from Duke’s coal ash ponds that you can actually see flowing right out of the impoundment walls and into nearby rivers and streams,” said Pete Harrison, an attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “We’ve also been concerned that the contaminated ground water might be leaking into the rivers below the water’s surface, where nobody can see it. These latest tests don’t just confirm our fears, they show that the toxic loading into the water is actually far worse than we’d imagined.”

Duke Energy retired its coal-fired units at the Buck Power Station in April 2013, but there is still coal ash stored on site and Duke has not announced a closure plan for these impoundments, nor have it publicly mentioned any leakage from the coal ash ponds, the center said.

SELC currently represents dozens of groups in ten different state and federal lawsuits to clean up at all 14 of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash sites throughout North Carolina.

Duke had not offered an official response related to the Buck plant as of Dec. 5. But it does have plans to deal with, over time, the coal ash at all of its North Carolina power plants. Duke Energy, in conjunction with ash management contractor Charah Inc., plans to hold community information events in Lee (Dec. 10) and Chatham (Dec. 11) counties to offer updates on Dukes coal ash management plans and details on beneficial reuse projects proposed in those counties. Experts from both companies will be on hand to share information and answer questions in an informal open-house setting.

As part of the first phase of a comprehensive plan to comply with state law and close ash basins at its coal plants in North Carolina, Duke Energy is contracting with Charah to transport a portion of coal ash excavated from two of its retired power plants to beneficial reuse projects in Lee and Chatham counties. The plan calls for ash from the L.V. Sutton Plant in Wilmington and the Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly to be transported, mostly by rail, to the Sanford Mine in Lee County and the Brickhaven Mine in Chatham County. Once at the mines, both owned by Charah, ash will be used in a fully lined structural fill at the sites.

Charah has expertise managing ash and is working in partnership with Duke Energy on the Lee County and Chatham County beneficial reuse projects, Duke noted in a Dec. 3 statement. Charah is also managing a similar beneficial reuse project for Duke Energy at the Asheville Regional Airport.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.