Duke Energy Agrees to Pay $6 Million for Dan River Coal Ash Spill

Duke Energy agreed to pay a $6 million fine under a new settlement reached with North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for the February 2014 coal ash spill at its Dan River power plant in Eden.

State regulators fined the utility $6.8 million in February, but Duke Energy challenged the decision, which was the second-largest fine for environmental violations in state history.

Although it is not insignificant, the fine pales in comparison to the $102 million the company was sentenced to pay last year under a plea agreement with federal authorities. In that judgment, the combination of fines, restitutions, and community action initiatives stemmed from nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act, only four of which were directly related to the Dan River spill.

The $6 million settlement “prevents the state from incurring additional legal costs associated with lengthy litigation and allows the state to focus all its resources on permanently closing coal ash ponds,” the DEQ said on September 23. The money will go into a statewide fund for public schools.

North Carolina enacted the nation’s first comprehensive coal ash management law in September 2014 in response to the February 2014 accident at Duke Energy’s Dan River coal plant in Eden, N.C., which spilled up to 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.

Earlier this year, Gov. Pat McCrory signed an update to the law that seeks to provide alternate water connections to residents around coal ash facilities, fixes dams around coal ash ponds, and creates a coal ash recycling program.

Duke Energy has also since embarked on a plan to excavate and close the Dan River facility’s coal ash ponds by August 1, 2019. The utility is required to close all of its coal ash ponds by 2029 and provide permanent alternative water supplies to residents around coal ash facilities by the fall of 2018.

In a statement on September 27, the DEQ said that two years after the landmark coal ash law went into effect, “North Carolina has become a national leader in addressing the long-ignored threat coal ash may pose to the environment and public health.”

In a video released last week, DEQ Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart said that seven of Duke Energy’s coal ash facilities have already been “dug up” and decisions “about how to close the rest will continue to be driven by science.”

 

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)