Duke Energy settles $25.1m North Carolina coal ash fines for $7m

Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) said on Sept. 29 that it has reached a settlement with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), formerly the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, regarding alleged groundwater violations at the company’s retired L.V. Sutton Steam Electric Plant in Wilmington and the company’s other North Carolina facilities.

In March 2015, NCDEQ levied an unprecedented $25.1 million fine against Duke Energy for alleged groundwater violations at the Sutton Plant in Wilmington. In response, the company appealed the fine to the Office of Administrative Hearings, citing a number of instances where evidence demonstrates that the regulator acted contrary to state law, the agency’s own rules, policies and procedures and the longstanding interpretation of the regulations.

Under the terms of the agreement, Duke said that NCDEQ recognizes that it did not follow its own policy and procedure and did not allow the company the opportunity to perform groundwater assessments and corrective actions before issuing notices of violations and fines.

Duke Energy will pay $7 million to resolve all alleged groundwater violations at its 14 North Carolina facilities. In addition, the settlement reiterates the company’s June 2015 commitment to move forward with plans to remediate groundwater near the coal ash basins at Sutton. In 2013, the company partnered with the local water utility to extend a municipal line to Sutton plant neighbors to ensure they continue to have a high-quality water supply.

Duke Energy will also perform necessary remediation at the Asheville, Belews Creek and H.F. Lee plants, the only facilities that showed off-site groundwater impacts in recent comprehensive site assessments. In those communities, private wells show no signs that coal ash has impacted water quality.

Said Duke Energy about this deal: “We welcome the opportunity to put this issue behind us, allowing us to continue focusing on closing coal ash basins as quickly as the state process will allow. This comprehensive $7 million settlement resolves former, current and future groundwater issues at all 14 North Carolina coal facilities, including the retired Sutton plant. Operating our system safely and protecting the health and well-being of our plant neighbors are our highest priorities. That’s why we closely monitor groundwater at our facilities, have shared the data with the state for decades, and acted to ensure that neighbors continue to have high-quality water supplies. Ultimately, closing ash basins in ways that protect people and the environment will address groundwater concerns.”

Duke added that it is making progress wherever possible, including these actions in recent months:

  • Submitted comprehensive groundwater assessments to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) for each of the 14 coal plants in the state.
  • Announced that the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) will conduct a comprehensive study of the coal ash recycling market and available technologies.
  • Recommended excavating five basins at the Cape Fear Plant (Moncure, N.C.), five basins at H.F. Lee Plant (Goldsboro, N.C.), one basin at W.H. Weatherspoon Plant (Lumberton, N.C.), and one inactive basin at the Cliffside Steam Station (Mooresboro, N.C.).
  • Began coal ash excavation at Riverbend Steam Station (Mount Holly, N.C.) and W.S. Lee Steam Station (Belton, S.C.) to a fully lined landfill.
  • Announced plans to retire the coal-fired Asheville Plant (Asheville, N.C.) in four to five years and modernize its generation and transmission system in Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina – significantly reducing environmental impacts, improving system reliability and minimizing long-term costs to customers.
  • Announced plans to build fully lined on-site landfills at the Dan River Steam Station (Eden, N.C.) and the Sutton Plant (Wilmington, N.C.).

Duke Energy Carolinas owns nuclear, coal-fired, natural gas, renewables and hydroelectric generation. That diverse fuel mix provides approximately 20,000 MW of owned electric capacity to about 2.5 million customers in a 24,000-square-mile service area of North Carolina and South Carolina. Duke Energy Progress owns nuclear, coal-fired, natural gas and hydroelectric generation. That diverse fuel mix provides about 12,000 MW of owned electric capacity to approximately 1.5 million customers in a 32,000-square-mile service area of North Carolina and South Carolina.

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.