Politics & Government

Is concrete industry the answer to coal ash?

Call it a concrete solution.

Comments to a Senate committee by the head of a Charlotte concrete company triggered a discussion Thursday about the reuse of the hundred million tons of coal ash stored in ponds across the state, posing not only a threat to the environment but potentially huge costs to Duke Energy.

Henry Batten, president of Concrete Supply Co., told North Carolina lawmakers his company has to import coal ash from out of state.

“I’m really here telling you the industry wants to buy it, consume it,” he told members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources.

Batten spoke at a hearing on Gov. Pat McCrory’s plan to deal with the 106 million tons of ash in 33 ponds. The plan is a response to February’s spill of 39,000 tons of ash into the Dan River. The byproduct of coal-fired power plants, the ash contains arsenic and other elements that pose threats to rivers and streams as well as groundwater.

Secretary John Skvarla and other officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources outlined McCrory’s plan, which among other things spells out remedial steps for the most fragile ponds, including one next to Mountain Island Lake, which supplies Charlotte’s drinking water.

Thursday marked the first time senators and the public had a chance to comment publicly on the plan. Sen. Austin Allran, a Catawba County Republican, asked about the commercial reuse of the coal ash.

Batten said he buys up to 200,000 tons of ash a year from four states: Maryland, West Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina. North Carolina ash, as currently processed, is “virtually unusable” for his company, he added.

Batten said North Carolina’s concrete industry uses up to 900,000 tons of coal ash a year. Duke plants produce about 1.2 million tons a year. Properly processed, he said the industry could consume most of the state’s production.

George Everette of Duke Energy said Duke does sell some ash to concrete companies but acknowledged that much of it has too much carbon and even ammonia to be useful. Converting more of it for use in, say, concrete would require a new plant that could process the ash to make it more commercially viable.

Some have proposed using ash in construction of a new runway at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Airport officials have warned about unforeseen problems, though Mayor Dan Clodfelter last month appeared to keep the door open to using it.

Supplies of ash aren’t the problem.

“If you want our ash, we have plenty for you,” Everette said.

Senators seemed to welcome the possibility of finding more uses for a byproduct that now is simply a problem.

“Creating these integrated relationships is the most sensible thing to deal with the problem that I’ve heard in a long time,” said Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a Cabarrus County Republican.