A bill designed to smooth the conversion of Duke Energy’s Asheville power plant from coal to natural gas clear the state Senate Thursday, 48 hours after the project was announced.
The Senate unanimously passed the bill introduced by Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville that would give Duke three extra years to close the two coal ash ponds at the plant. It now goes to the state House.
It was just Tuesday that Apodaca joined company officials at the plant on the shores of Lake Julian for the announcement that the plant would close its coal-burning units by 2020 and replace them with one fueled by natural gas.
The bill directs the state Utilities Commission to reach a decision on a permit for the gas plant within 45 days of Duke’s application. It also allows the Asheville plant two exemptions from the Coal Ash Management Act enacted in September.
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“This is to allow the company to get moving, and get moving quickly to natural gas,” Apodaca told his colleagues.
The exemptions take effect in August 2016 if, by then, the Utilities Commission has issued a permit for the gas plant based on Duke’s written commitment to close the coal units by early 2020.
One exemption lets the plant avoid a state requirement that all Duke plants convert their ash handling to dry form by the end of 2019. Ash is now commonly mixed with water and stored in ponds that have been linked to contamination.
The other provision gives Duke until 2022 to close the Asheville plant’s two ash ponds. Last year’s ash law labeled it one of four high-priority plants where ash ponds had to be closed by 2019.
Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert said the coal units will have to continue operating until the new gas plant goes online in late 2019 or early 2020.
Duke stores 3 million tons of ash in the Asheville ponds. The company expects to finish moving ash from the smaller of the ponds to the Asheville airport by September.
Staff writer Bruce Henderson contributed.