Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Solution Could Cost More Than $10 Billion

On Apr. 22, Duke Energy updated the N.C. Joint Environmental Review Commission on near- and long-term actions it is considering to address coal ash storage across the state.

Paul Newton, N.C. state president for Duke, explained that actions outlined in a letter sent to N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla on Mar. 12 are expected to cost the company $2 billion to $2.5 billion. Those plans include costs for:

  • Excavating and relocating ash from Duke’s Dan River, Riverbend, and Sutton sites.
  • Continuing to move ash from its Asheville plant.
  • Converting three remaining coal units to dry fly ash systems.
  • Implementing a hybrid “cap in place” closure approach at 10 remaining coal plant sites in N.C.
  • Utilizing dry bottom ash handling at operating sites in the state.

Newton noted that costs increase another $4 billion to $5.5 billion if an “excavate and remove” approach were adopted across the company’s entire N.C. coal fleet. Completing the work necessary to accomplish that would also take 20 to 30 years, because it would require siting, permitting, and constructing new lined landfills or structural fills.

Costs could escalate another $1 billion to $2 billion if Duke were required to convert to all-dry ash handling systems rather than transporting bottom ash wet and then storing it dry. In a worst-case cost scenario, implementing all of these actions would cost Duke roughly $10 billion, which does not include costs associated with financing, inflation, and increases in operating and maintenance expenses.

“In our view, the best approach to manage coal ash for our customers and North Carolina lies somewhere along this spectrum, with steps that address ash at both retired and operating plants. We look forward to working constructively with our regulators to achieve prudent, environmentally sound, and cost-effective solutions,” Newton said.

The coal ash issue became a top priority earlier this year after a serious coal ash spill occurred at Duke’s Dan River Steam Station. Duke has 33 ash basins in N.C., about half of which are inactive. Although approximately two-thirds of the 1.8 million tons of ash produced at Duke’s N.C. plants last year was reused or recycled beneficially in structural fill, cement, cinder blocks, and other construction materials, that still left over a half million tons for the company to dispose of.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)

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