Duke Energy responds to coal ash basin violations; cites progress

Duke Energy responded to issuance of 12 Notices of Violation from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality by saying it is working hard to clean up coal ash basins.

The North Carolina DEQ and the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory (R) announced March 4 that it was issuing violations to Duke for allowing wastewater to leak from coal ash basins at 12 coal-fired power plants.

The violation notice requires Duke Energy to take corrective action and submit more information to the state environmental department. The utility has 30 days to respond to the violations and provide the data.

The department’s Division of Water Resources could also fine Duke for violating its wastewater permits. Wastewater is treated coal ash water that leaks from ponds and reaches nearby bodies of water.

The violations were issued for unauthorized discharges of wastewater at Duke Energy’s Allen Steam Station, Asheville Steam Station, Belews Creek Steam Station, Buck Steam Station, Cape Fear Steam Electric Generating Plant, Cliffside Steam Station, Dan River Combined Cycle Plant, Lee Steam Electric Plant, Marshall Steam Station, Mayo Steam Electric Power Plant, Roxboro Steam Electric Plant and Weatherspoon Steam Electric Plant.

The North Carolina DEQ has already issued Duke a $6.6 million fine for violations related to the February 2014 coal ash spill at the company’s retired Dan River power plant in Eden, N.C.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission recently approved a Duke plan to build two 280 MW combined cycle natural gas-fired generating units to replace the existing 376 MW Asheville coal plant, which will be retired by 2020.

“There is nothing new here,” Duke said in a statement. “Even the state environmental regulator acknowledges that seeps occur at every earthen impoundment, and those at ash basins are not impacting water quality.”

“We are doing everything the state has asked to address seeps, including cataloguing, testing and monitoring them,” Duke said. “Nearly two years ago, the company included seeps in permit applications to the state and has been working through the process ever since.”

Back in 2010, Duke Energy talked with NC DEQ about permitting seeps. At that time, the agency chose not to pursue that, believing seeps to be inconsequential, the company added.

Duke also said:

“-Ash is being excavated and moved to fully lined solutions at six of the company’s 16 Carolinas plants (Asheville, Cliffside, Dan River, Riverbend, Sutton and WS Lee.);

“-Newly constructed rail spurs are being used at three plants to significantly increase the amount of ash hauled away (Dan River, Sutton, Riverbend)

“-“We’ve begun safely removing water from basins at Riverbend and Sutton, and other plants will follow. This is a critical step as we move toward closure.”

“-On-site lined landfills are planned for Dan River, Sutton, WS Lee and Robinson plants.

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Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 22 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants.

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