Settlement details deal to excavate coal ash

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A legal agreement between Duke Energy, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and a handful of environmental groups is being touted as win for everyone.

The agreement settles the method by which Duke Energy will close all its remaining coal ash bins in the state, including those at the Roxboro plant and at Mayo Lake.

Under the agreement, seven of the company’s nine existing coal ash basins will be excavated and the ash will be placed in lined landfills on the plant property.

There are two exceptions to that agreement, including one coal ash basin at the Roxboro plant which had already been closed. The other exception is for a similar situation at the Marshall Steam Plant in Sherrill’s Ford.

“This agreement significantly reduces the cost to close our coal ash basins in the Carolina for our customers, while delivering the same environmental benefits as full excavation,” said Duke Energy’s North Carolina president Stephen De May.

The lawsuit settled by this agreement came about as Duke Energy complained that excavating all the coal ash basins in the state would be cost prohibitive. Under the agreement, though, most of those basins will be excavated anyway. Duke says it will reduce the cost of addressing its coal ash basins by about $1.5 billion by not having to excavate all the coal ash pits.

The company estimates that it will remove about 76 million tons of coal ash and that it will take about 15 years to complete the job based on quick permit approvals agreed to by the state in the settlement agreement.

Duke Energy said in a statement Thursday that the agreement also protects groundwater. “Drinking and recreational water supplies are safe now and corrective action plans will address groundwater at each site to ensure those supplies remain protected,” the statement said.

At the Roxboro plant extra steps will be taken to ensure water quality. The company will install specialized wells and other equipment designed to monitor groundwater conditions and make certain that water quality in those groundwater supplies improves. The company says it expects to meet groundwater standards at the plant by 2029.

The deal also got a thumbs up from state regulators who have been pushing Duke Energy to be more aggressive in its clean up efforts involving coal ash.

“North Carolina’s communities have lived with the threat of coal ash pollution for too long. They can now be certain that the clean-up of the last coal ash impoundments in our state will begin this year,” said DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan.

Frank Holleman, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing a handful of environmental groups, also praised the agreement. “This agreement is a historic cleanup of coal ash pollution in North Carolina and the Department of Environmental Quality and community groups thoughout the state have provided essential leadership in obtaining it,” Holleman said.

Duke Energy has already submitted its closure plans to the state. Public comment on those plans will be heard at a series of public meetings planned for February in the communities where the plants are located.

Once the state approves those closure plans, Duke Energy will have 60 days to begin the work.

Finally, the agreement puts an end to all ongoing litigation over the how the company will safely dispose of the coal ash it has stored up.

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