North Carolina regulators are seeking public input on a proposal to speed up cleanup of coal ash at three Duke Energy power plants near Charlotte.
State law gives Duke until 2029 to close its ash ponds, which hold metals that can contaminate water supplies across the state. A proposed consent order would accelerate that timetable for ponds at the Allen power plant in Gaston County, the Marshall plant on Lake Norman and the Rogers plant in Rutherford County.
Written comments on the proposal – an agreement between Duke and the state Environmental Management Commission – may be submitted between Wednesday and Feb. 14. A public hearing will be held Feb. 13 in Lincolnton.
The Department of Environmental Quality will consider those comments before sending the proposed order to the state Environmental Management Commission, which must approve the proposal before it can take effect.
Under the order, Duke would drain water from ash ponds by 2020 at the Allen and Rogers power plants and by 2021 at Marshall. Duke also agrees to pay an $84,000 fine for leaking polluted water from the ponds into the Catawba and Broad rivers. Draining the ponds is expected to eliminate or reduce those leaks, which are called seeps.
“This agreement represents a critical step in our ongoing work to safely and permanently close ash basins in ways that protect people and the environment,” Duke said in a statement. “The Special Order by Consent provides clarity on how natural or un-engineered seeps from ash basins will be monitored and it paves the way for the state to issue nearly a dozen permits that the company must have before it can continue to dewater and close ash basins.”
Duke agrees to pay additional fines if it doesn’t meet deadlines or other conditions of the proposed order.
In 2016, the Department of Environmental Quality issued violation notices to Duke for leaks at the three plants. Tuesday’s fine is for nearly two dozen leaks that were identified before January 2015, the department said. Specifically, the new order requires the Charlotte-based utility to accelerate the removal of water on the surface of the ponds, which DEQ says is expected to substantially reduce or eliminate the leaks.
Duke came under wide scrutiny for coal ash, a byproduct of generating electricity, in 2014 following an ash spill into the Dan River near the Virginia border.
That incident triggered legislation ordering Duke to close all 32 of its North Carolina ash basins. Duke has said its shareholders will be on the hook for fines and cleanup costs associated with the spill itself.
Duke is seeking to pass other coal ash costs on to customers in the Charlotte region by raising electricity rates. In August, Duke requested an average increase of 13.6 percent across all customer classes, including residents, in a territory spanning central and western portions of the state; residential customers would see bills rise by 16.7 percent.
A public hearing on the rate request is set for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, 832 E. Fourth St.
How to comment
Write Bob Sledge, N.C. Division of Water Resources, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-1617 or send by email to firstname.lastname@example.org between Wednesday and Feb. 14. Members of the public may also speak at a hearing at 6 p.m. Feb. 13 at the James W. Warren Citizens Center, 115 W. Main St. in Lincolnton.