The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality ordered Duke Energy on Monday to excavate several million tons of coal ash from six of its facilities.
The facilities — including Allen, Belews, Cliffside/Rogers, Marshall, Mayo and Roxboro — must be excavated of coal ash, which will then be disposed of in a lined landfill. Duke Energy has until Aug. 1 to submit finalized excavation closure plans.
The ash from Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plants has been stored in open, unlined ponds with water for decades, and concerns over the potential for water contamination has led to lawsuits and community activism across the state.
A statement from the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign said the chemicals in coal ash can lead to cancer, heart disease and stroke, and brain damage in children.
The ponds were originally classified as low-risk in a November DEQ decision, meaning Duke Energy could only drain and cap — or partially cap — the ponds. Despite these proposals, the DEQ ordered Duke Energy to fully excavate the coal ash.
In its more recent decision, the DEQ said excavation was more environmentally protective and safer for public health.
In its statement, Duke Energy said a major goal is keeping costs down for their customers. This project will add $4-5 billion to the already-estimated $5.6 billion. Its statement also reiterated that a variety of closure methods are possible for the final six sites.
“These closure options are also consistent with how hundreds of other basins around the country are expected to be closed,” the statement said.
The Aug. 1 deadline requires Duke Energy to propose where the lined storage facilities will be located as well as how long the process will take. Its statement emphasized that it is a long process that could take longer than state and federal deadlines.
“Excavation at some sites will take decades, stretching well beyond the current state and federal deadlines,” it stated.
In energy plans filed with state regulators in September, Duke Energy pledged to go coal-free by 2048.
“Our communities have long demanded, and deserve, a transition away from dangerous fossil fuels toward an equitable, clean energy economy powered by safe, abundant wind and solar and bolstered by robust energy efficiency," said Dave Rogers, a senior representative for the Beyond Coal Campaign, in a statement.
In its statement, Duke Energy said its focuses include safety and environmentalism, and its future plans will take all of that into account.
“We are making strong progress to permanently close every ash basin in North Carolina in ways that fully protect people and the environment, while keeping costs down as much as possible for our customers."
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