Duke Energy, critics ask that ash suits be closed

Coal ash is shown in settling ponds at Duke Energy's Riverbend power plant on Mountain Island Lake in a 2008 photo.
Coal ash is shown in settling ponds at Duke Energy's Riverbend power plant on Mountain Island Lake in a 2008 photo. Staff Photographer

Duke Energy and its environmental critics have asked a judge to close state lawsuits over coal ash at seven power plants, saying cleanup terms have largely been resolved.

The motions cite ash cleanups Duke has been ordered to do at four plants, including Riverbend near Charlotte, and has voluntarily committed to do at three others.

Duke filed motions last week that ask Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway to order the cleanup work be done and close the cases.

“We are very interested in resolving the legal matters that are related to coal ash, which would allow us to continue to focus on safely closing the ash basins,” spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said.

Sheehan said Duke has worked “diligently” to resolve the cases with the plaintiffs, particularly those concerning the seven plants cited in the motions.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources filed lawsuits over ash at all 14 of Duke’s North Carolina coal plants, and environmental advocates later joined the cases.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents 10 environmental groups in the lawsuits, filed supporting motions Wednesday.

“These communities, and the river, deserve finality,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the law center. “We’re asking the court to order it at seven sites.”

... There is no further relief to be granted by this court.

Duke Energy motion

DENR has not yet responded to Duke’s motions and had no comment Wednesday.

DENR’s lawsuits focused on illicit seeps from coal ash ponds and groundwater contamination, and the sources of the contamination. Health officials have advised homeowners not to drink water from more than 300 wells near Duke’s power plants as tests continue.

Duke’s filings in Wake County Superior Court say “there is no further relief to be granted by this court.”

Legislation last year dubbed the Riverbend, Dan River, Sutton and Asheville plants as high priorities where ash ponds must be closed by 2019. The company has said it will excavate ash from those plants and send it to lined disposal sites.

Last month, Duke said it would also excavate ash at three more plants – Lee, Cape Fear and Weatherspoon.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, in motions Wednesday, asked the court to add deadlines for ash removal at those plants: within 10 years for Cape Fear and 12 years at Lee and Weatherspoon.

The fate of coal ash is unresolved at seven more Duke Energy power plants. Last year’s ash legislation ordered Duke to close them by 2029, but it has not been decided whether ash would be excavated or left in place.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender