Duke Energy appeals North Carolina coal ash excavation order to protect customers from excessive cost and disruption

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  • Duke Energy is safely closing coal ash basins in accordance with state and federal law, has already excavated over 20 million tons of ash in North Carolina

  • Order would drastically increase the cost to customers without measurable benefit and create decades of disruption for neighborhoods

  • Decision mandates the most extreme option for basins deemed by the state as “low risk,” ignores science and engineering that supports common-sense closure

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Duke Energy today appealed a recent order by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) requiring extremely expensive and disruptive excavation of nine coal ash basins at the company’s Allen, Belews Creek, Cliffside/Rogers, Marshall, Mayo and Roxboro facilities.

Scientists and engineers have determined that capping the basins in place is a safe method for managing ash in a manner that protects the environment and public health. Approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration, capping and monitoring is a far less expensive option that can achieve safe closure much faster than excavation, significantly reducing the impact on customers and communities. NCDEQ has ranked the nine basins as “low risk” to the environment and public health.

“We share the same goals of permanently and safely closing all ash basins, and we’ve made great progress to date,” said Stephen De May, North Carolina president, Duke Energy. “We are already excavating our basins where it makes sense to do so and will close the remaining basins in a manner that protects health, safety and financial impact on customers. In the meantime, we are compelled to appeal this order, which is not supported by the scientific evidence, has significant procedural errors and would impose tremendous costs on customers without any measurable benefit.”

The company filed petitions related to each site with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) detailing a number of significant concerns, including:

  • The state’s order requires the most expensive closure method available in the face of scientific and engineering evidence, performed by outside experts, that less expensive and more rapid closure options would continue to fully protect people and the environment.
  • NCDEQ issued its one-size-fits-all order without the benefit of corrective action plans required by the N.C. Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA). Required for any closure option – including excavation – corrective action plans are separate, site-specific plans to help restore groundwater around basins to state standards more rapidly than either capping or excavation could achieve on its own; NCDEQ itself requested that Duke Energy deliver the plans in December 2019. By failing to consider whether such corrective action would allow capping to meet CAMA requirements, the state regulator acted erroneously.
  • NCDEQ’s determination that excavation is “more protective” – a determination made without the benefit of complete closure plans and corrective action plans required by CAMA – is inconsistent with the scientific analysis submitted to the state regulator demonstrating that groundwater quality at the six sites is predicted to be virtually the same under all closure options.
  • The order, as currently written, could result in approximately $4 billion to $5 billion in additional and unnecessary costs, potentially create decades of disruptions to local communities, and will increase rather than mitigate environmental harm.

“We do not want our customers and communities burdened with billions in additional costs and decades of disruption when the science shows no equivalent environmental or public health benefit to excavating these sites,” said De May. “There are common-sense, case-by-case closure options available that will continue our significant progress in safely closing all our ash basins.”

Managing cost to customers

Based on current estimates and the company’s understanding of the state’s order, excavating these basins could add approximately $4 billion to $5 billion to the prior estimate of $5.6 billion for the Carolinas and would take decades, stretching well beyond state and federal deadlines. The extra expense to excavate basins could be used on other energy projects to benefit North Carolina, including investments in clean and renewable energy.

Ahead of NCDEQ’s April 1 order and in advance of state and federal requirements, Duke Energy implemented technology upgrades that allowed the company to stop sending ash to basins at the six sites under review by NCDEQ. In North Carolina, Duke Energy is excavating 22 basins and recommends capping nine others, having already excavated more than 20 million tons of ash in the state.

Duke Energy is a national leader in safe basin closure and last year recycled 79% of the ash produced at its operating facilities. Learn more about the company’s strong progress safely closing coal ash basins and watch this video to see what an ash basin and the closure process look like; additional video resources regarding Duke Energy’s basin closure and ash management can be found here.

About Duke Energy

Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), a Fortune 125 company headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., is one of the largest energy holding companies in the U.S. It employs 30,000 people and has an electric generating capacity of 51,000 megawatts through its regulated utilities, and 3,000 megawatts through its nonregulated Duke Energy Renewables unit.

Duke Energy is transforming its customers’ experience, modernizing the energy grid, generating cleaner energy and expanding natural gas infrastructure to create a smarter energy future for the people and communities it serves. The Electric Utilities and Infrastructure unit’s regulated utilities serve approximately 7.7 million retail electric customers in six states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. The Gas Utilities and Infrastructure unit distributes natural gas to more than 1.6 million customers in five states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky. The Duke Energy Renewables unit operates wind and solar generation facilities across the U.S., as well as energy storage and microgrid projects.

Duke Energy was named to Fortune’s 2019 “World’s Most Admired Companies” list, and Forbes’ 2019 “America’s Best Employers” list. More information about the company is available at duke-energy.com. The Duke Energy News Center contains news releases, fact sheets, photos, videos and other materials. Duke Energy’s illumination features stories about people, innovations, community topics and environmental issues. Follow Duke Energy on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook.

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