Duke Energy announced on Sept. 29 that it had agreed to pay a $7 million fine to resolve all groundwater issues with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) relating to its 14 facilities in the state.
The settlement comes after Duke appealed a proposed $25.1 million fine the NCDEQ levied in March. The state’s Office of Administrative Hearings found that NCDEQ did not follow certain required procedures and did not allow Duke a chance to perform groundwater assessments and remediation before levying the fine.
Duke has been dealing with coal ash problems in North Carolina for several years, but the issue flared into public attention following a major spill along the Dan River in February 2014, when a ruptured storm drain released around 38,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of contaminated water from a coal ash pond at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden. That incident led to a federal investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a $102.2 million EPA fine, allegations that the state had been lax in its oversight of Duke’s coal ash ponds, and a major public relations black eye.
Since then, Duke has been struggling to regain the trust of the state’s residents and regulators through a comprehensive program to clean up its coal ash ponds and change the way it handles coal combustion residuals—an initiative it warned could cost up to $10 billion.
In a statement on the Sept. 29 settlement, Duke reviewed its progress over the last year and a half in cleaning up its coal ash:
- Duke has conducted comprehensive groundwater assessments for each of its 14 coal plants in North Carolina and provided the data to the NCDEQ.
- The company will partner with the Electric Power Research Institute to conduct a comprehensive study of the coal ash recycling market and available technologies.
- It has recommended excavating five coal ash basins at the Cape Fear Plant in Moncure, five basins at the H. F. Lee Plant in Goldsboro, one basin at the W. H. Weatherspoon Plant in Lumberton, and one inactive basin at the Cliffside Steam Station in Mooresboro.
- It has begun excavation at the Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly and the W.S. Lee Steam Station in Belton, moving the waste to a fully lined landfill.
- It announced plans to retire the Asheville Plant in four to five years and modernize its generation and transmission system in western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina.
- It has also announced plans to build fully lined on-site landfills at the Dan River Steam Station and the Sutton Plant in Wilmington.
—Thomas W. Overton is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).