Duke evaluates new coal ash classifications issued by North Carolina

Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) on Dec. 31 issued a cautious statement in reaction to initial ash basin classifications issued by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ).

As part of the Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA), passed by state legislators after a major coal ash spill in early 2014 at Duke’s retired Dan River coal plant, the NCDEQ must recommend classifications for all coal ash basins throughout North Carolina to the Coal Ash Management Commission. Four sites received a high priority designation in the 2014 state law: Asheville Plant (Asheville, N.C.), Dan River Steam Station (Eden, N.C.), Riverbend Steam Station (Mount Holly, N.C.) and Sutton Plant (Wilmington, N.C.).

The recommended classifications issued by the state of Dec. 31 address the remaining 24 basins and will drive closure decisions and the schedule for each site. The CAMA includes very specific criteria that must be evaluated to determine these classifications and provides an opportunity for public input.

Said Duke: “We appreciate the work that has gone into developing these preliminary recommendations. We’re particularly interested in understanding how the state is balancing the requirements of the Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA) to ensure the environment is well protected without unnecessary cost and impact to customers and communities.  We are fully participating in this lengthy process, having provided the state with the most in-depth science and engineering studies experts have ever done around North Carolina ash basins. We want to ensure NC DEQ has the information it needs for its evaluation, so in addition to meeting our commitments under CAMA, we’ve also given regulators new and supplemental information that they recently requested.

“Next, we look forward to hearing the public’s perspective. In the meantime, we’re making strong progress in closing basins in ways that protect people and the environment, comply with state and federal coal ash laws, minimize impact to communities, and manage cost.”

Here is what Duke Energy said it has done in the last few months on coal ash disposal:

  • Continued to excavate ash from the Asheville Plant (Asheville, N.C.) and began excavating at Cliffside Steam Station (Mooresboro, N.C.), Dan River Steam Station (Eden, N.C.), Riverbend Steam Station (Mount Holly, N.C.), Sutton Plant (Wilmington, N.C) and W.S. Lee Steam Station (Belton, S.C.) to fully lined, permanent solutions;
  • Submitted comprehensive groundwater assessments to NCDEQ for each of the 14 coal plants in the state;
  • Announced plans to build fully lined on-site landfills at the Dan River Steam Station (Eden, N.C.), Robinson Plant (Hartsville, S.C.), Sutton Plant (Wilmington, N.C.) and W.S. Lee Steam Station (Belton, S.C.);
  • Announced that the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is conducting a comprehensive study of the coal ash recycling market and available technologies; and
  • Announced plans to retire the coal-fired Asheville Plant (Asheville, N.C.) in four to five years and modernize Duke Energy’s 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.

“Thanks to Governor [Pat] McCrory’s leadership and the hard work of dedicated DEQ staff, North Carolina is well on its way to permanently eliminating the decades-old threat of improperly stored coal ash,” said DEQ Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart in a Dec. 31 statement. “DEQ’s draft classifications are the result of months of review of scientific information about each coal ash pond’s impact to the environment and public health.”

North Carolina’s historic coal ash law requires DEQ to make its draft classifications available by Dec. 31, release within 30 days a comprehensive report that details the reasoning behind each classification, and execute a robust public process that includes a public meeting in each county where a coal ash facility is located. The information gathered through the public participation process will help inform the department’s final proposed classifications.

“I am proud of our staff’s tremendous work over the last several months in reviewing all of the available scientific data and continuously updating the classifications as more information was provided,” said Tom Reeder, assistant secretary for the Environment at DEQ. “These draft proposed classifications are rooted in environmental science and will only be finalized after considering public comments. DEQ is committed to upholding the integrity of the coal ash law by making decisions based exclusively on science and public comment.”

Coal ash ponds designated as high-risk must be excavated and closed by December 2019; intermediate-risk ponds must be excavated and closed by December 2024; and low-risk ponds must be closed by December 2029. Impoundments were given a range if Duke did not provide sufficient information in a timely manner for DEQ to determine a specific priority level. DEQ will modify the draft classifications once it completes its review of data submitted by Duke in late December.

“I am disappointed that special interest groups attempted to corrupt the process by leaking an early draft that was based on incomplete data,” van der Vaart continued. “The draft classifications released today reflect the latest environmental science.”

Duke Energy Carolinas owns nuclear, coal-fired, natural gas, renewables and hydroelectric generation. That diverse fuel mix provides approximately 20,000 megawatts 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 megawatts 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.