Duke, with new permits issued, moves forward with some coal ash disposal plans

Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) reponded to North Carolina’s issuance on June 5 of necessary permits to Charah Inc., a vendor engaged in closing ash basins, and its subsidiary, Green Meadow LLC, for structural fill projects at clay mines in Lee and Chatham counties in North Carolina.

Said Duke: “With necessary permits in hand, we will move quickly to begin the next phase of our work in Lee and Chatham counties. The lined structural fill projects at those locations will safely store coal ash and turn unusable land into sites that can be developed in the future. In the initial phase of work, ash from the retired L.V. Sutton Steam Station and Riverbend Steam Station will be transported to the mine sites. The company continues to await several other necessary state approvals before it can proceed with ash basin closure at a number of locations across North Carolina.”

Duke noted that ash excavation is underway at three Carolinas sites: W.S. Lee Steam Station (Williamston, S.C.); Riverbend Steam Station (Mt. Holly, N.C.); and the Asheville (N.C.) Electric Generating Plant.

Significant site preparation work is underway at the Dan River Steam Station (at Eden, N.C.) and L.V. Sutton Steam Electric Plant (at Wilmington, N.C.) as the company prepares to excavate ash and permanently store it in landfills on plant property.

The company had previously unveiled a $1.1 billion plan to retire the Asheville Electric Generating Plant early, replacing it with cleaner natural gas and solar, ending the coal era in Asheville.

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources approved Green Meadow LLC’s request to modify mining permits for the Colon Mine Site in Lee County and the Brickhaven No. 2 Mine Tract “A” in Chatham County. Approved permit modifications for both locations include changing the mine reclamation method to allow coal ash as structural fill, redesigning erosion and sedimentation control measures and reducing the affected acreage.

DENR also issued permits to Green Meadow and parent company Charah to use coal ash in the construction of structural fills at both mines as part of the mine reclamation plans. Under the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, these permits were required in addition to the modified mining permits. Engineered, protective liners will be installed in the pits before the coal ash is deposited. The liners are designed to capture leachate and prevent coal ash contaminants from reaching groundwater.

“Issuance of these permits is a critical step in our efforts to permanently close all of North Carolina’s coal ash ponds,” said Tom Reeder, an assistant secretary for DENR, in a June 5 statement. “Our department will continue to monitor these projects closely to ensure that public health and the environment are protected.”

The department noted that comprehensive coal ash transport and spill response plans must be developed, approved and included in the operating plans. Coal ash is the only offsite material allowed onto the mine sites.

Green Meadow will also need federal and state water quality permissions before work can begin near the portions of the mines with wetlands. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing the company’s application for a federal Section 404 Clean Water Act permit, and DENR’s Division of Water Resources is reviewing a Section 401 water quality certification. Both permissions are required when a project will impact streams or wetlands. The permits issued June 5 restrict construction and operations to areas of the mine sites that do not require a 401 certification or 404 permit. If the certification and permit are obtained in the future, then activities in those areas may proceed.

The DENR noted that it recently cited Green Meadow and Moncure Holdings LLC for environmental permit violations related to unauthorized land-clearing activities near the Brickhaven mine. The area was being prepared so the companies could bring coal ash by rail to the site. The companies have been required to halt land-disturbing activities until they obtain a required construction stormwater permit. A second notice issued recently is related to Green Meadow’s current mining permit at the Brickhaven Mine and requires the company to install sediment basins and silt fencing and submit a separate mining permit modification to DENR for approval before proceeding with planned construction of a rail spur.

“We will ensure the companies comply with the environmental laws they have violated and closely monitor project activities as we move forward with this process,” said Tracy Davis, director of the N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources, the agency responsible for the state’s mining and stormwater programs.

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.