Cliffside coal ash pond seepage part of proposed Duke Energy agreement

RALEIGH, N.C.  — Duke Energy will pay an $84,000 penalty and work to stop potentially toxic waste from three North Carolina coal ash ponds from leaking in a deal announced Tuesday. Duke Energy and regulators with the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission (NCEMC) agreement acknowledges the leaks from unlined, earthen holding basins at the power plants into the adjoining Catawba and Broad rivers, a violation of pollution laws.

Tuesday’s agreement, which must still pass a state approval process, proposes Duke Energy to draw water off the surface of the open air basins at the three plants by 2019 in hopes of reducing or eliminating the leaks. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced it would receive public comments on the proposed agreement from January 10, 2018 until February 14, 2018.

The penalty was assessed for 22 seepage leak areas detected at coal ash ponds at the Rogers/Cliffside, Allen and Marshall power plants before 2015. Coal ash is the residue left after burning coal to generate power and can contain toxic materials like arsenic and chromium.

Duke has acknowledged basin seepage has infiltrated underground water tables. Duke Energy provided hundreds of homes using wells within a half-mile of its coal plants with bottled water as a precaution or connections to nearby water systems. A 2016 state law requires Duke Energy to install public water lines or water filtration systems to neighboring homes by October. A separate state law passed after a 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River ordered Duke Energy to close all its ash ponds at 14 North Carolina power plants.

The company’s requested rate increase seeks to recoup that cost of providing bottled water for more than two years by charging power customers.

The Allen coal plant’s coal-fired generators are scheduled to be phased out. There are no plans to retire the Marshall and Rogers plants. Coal residues will be transported and stored in dry condition, eliminating the former use of storage basins.

The consent order  (see below) defines decanting as the “removal of the free water on the surface of the coal ash basins.” The  process “is expected to substantially reduce or eliminate the seeps” that had been previously identified. The schedule says decanting at the three plants’ ash ponds must start by various dates in 2019 and be finished by March 2020 at Cliffside, June 2020 at Allen and March 2021 at Marshall.

A press release from DEQ states this process would help speed up the eventual closure of the three plants involved in the agreement.seepage agreement