The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality said Feb. 12 that it issued that day a critical permit that will serve as a model for the safe closure of all coal ash ponds throughout the state.
After more than a year of delays, state officials finally received approval from the federal government to issue the permit, which provides for the safe removal of water from coal ash ponds at Duke Energy‘s (NYSE: DUK) Riverbend power plant site in preparation for closure. Dewatering of ash ponds is done under strict monitoring by state environmental officials and is an essential step in removing the threat coal ash presents to the environment and public health, the department noted.
“The permit issued today is the most stringent in the nation in regulating the safe closure of coal ash ponds,” said Donald R. van der Vaart, the DEQ secretary. “State regulators are ensuring the environmentally responsible closure of all coal ash ponds throughout North Carolina through strict oversight and regulation of closure activities.”
State regulators plan to use the Riverbend permit as a template for the permanent closure of coal ash ponds at other facilities. North Carolina’s coal ash law requires that impoundments at Duke Energy’s Sutton, Asheville, Riverbend and Dan River facilities be permanently closed by Aug. 1, 2019. The remaining 10 sites will be prioritized for closure based on the level of risk they present to the environment and public health, with all coal ash ponds and discharges from those ponds eliminated no later than 2029.
Riverbend is located in Gaston County, N.C. Four gas-fired combustion turbine units at the site were retired in 2012. Duke Energy retired the Riverbend coal capacity in 2013.