Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke Energy's "cap in place" proposal backed by rate hike scare

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Taking passive-aggressive bullying to a whole new level:

The proposal is likely to win few friends among environmentalists who want to see all of the Belews Creek plant’s 12 million tons of coal ash dug out of the basin and reburied in a lined landfill.

But Duke Energy says the new alternative makes more sense because it requires less disruptive excavation and carries a significantly lower price tag for the utility’s North Carolina customers, who ultimately will bear the cost of coal ash disposal in their power bills.

Bolding mine, because that is not a foregone conclusion, and the author should know that. All rate increases must be approved by the NC Utilities Commission, and Duke Energy has had several of their requests reduced substantially in the last 2-3 years. That being said, the NCUC should have taken a harder stance on this, and refused *any* increases associated with Duke's previous irresponsible activities. It's their compromises allowing some increases that have led to a situation where the utility can raise such a threat as above, so they can do a half-ass job sweeping coal ash under the rug. Just covering up a coal ash impoundment that does not have a bottom liner may actually increase the amount of Arsenic that leaks out:

"Some of these ponds did not have bottom liners when they were originally constructed, so they'll be susceptible to leaking to groundwater even if they are covered on top," said Hsu-Kim, who also holds an appointment in Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. "When you cap a site, you're separating it from air. And if the buried waste goes anaerobic, it could enhance the leaching of some elements, leading to more contamination than expected."

In the study, Hsu-Kim and her graduate student Grace Schwartz set up a series of microcosms -- small-scale laboratory replicas of an environment. They then looked at how much arsenic and selenium leached out of the system both with and without oxygen. Both contaminants are potential problems for aquatic wildlife, and arsenic can be cancerous to humans.

The tests showed that with oxygen, the levels of selenium leaching are much higher than that of arsenic. But that trend flips when the system becomes anaerobic -- there is an increase in the leaching of arsenic and a decrease for selenium.

Hsu-Kim points out that this result is not surprising given the chemistry of the two elements, and previous projects not related to coal ash sites have demonstrated these results in the real world. The study points out that this could be happening in coal ash sites as well.

Not trying to be reductive or clever (maybe a little clever), but when it comes to actual science, Duke University > Duke Energy. To put it bluntly, Arsenic is nasty. Long-term exposure to even trace quantities can cause developmental problems, heart and lung degradation, diabetes, and several other physiological issues. And of course, acute exposure to higher levels can kill you pretty quickly. In other words, it's not something that should be dismissed as "harmless" in any amounts.

But back to the economic blackmail in the OP:

Duke Energy estimates the landfill method would cost $478 million to complete and take about 16 years, including time for design and securing the necessary permits from government agencies.

In contrast, the $135 million hybrid concept calls for a 10-year process to remove ash from just less than half of the storage basin’s 270 acres, then deposit it on part of the remaining 144 acres of coal waste.

The final phase of hybrid construction would see all 12 million tons of ash placed within that remaining 144 acres and covered by an impervious cap topped by soil to eventually become a sloped field covering the ash under a protective shell.

Another possibility under consideration at Belews Creek is the full, cap-in-place approach. That technology requires limited excavation and some restructuring of the current ash basin, followed by placement of a larger, synthetic “closure cap” over what is now the basin’s entire 270-acre expanse.

The first option is really the only safe method, because the other two would leave all the toxic ash with no liner under it, free to leach out Arsenic and other nasty stuff. But that 16 year timeline is insanely overstated, likely to discourage people from supporting a plan that would take so long. Don't take my word for it, just read Duke Energy's glowing report on basin closures:

Ash has been excavated from seven basins at the Asheville Plant (Asheville, N.C.), Rogers Energy Complex (Mooresboro, N.C.), W.S. Lee facility (Belton, S.C.), Cayuga Generating Station (Cayuga, Ind.), Gibson Generating Station (Owensville, Ind.) and Gallagher Generating Station (New Albany, Ind.).

In the coming months, excavation will be completed at seven additional basins at the Dan River facility (Eden, N.C.), Riverbend Steam Station (Mount Holly, N.C.), Sutton Energy Complex (Wilmington, N.C.) and East Bend Station (Boone Co., Ky.).

Approximately 22 million tons of ash have been excavated since basin closure began in recent years, with more than 5 million tons moved in 2018 alone.

Most of those completed projects took about five years, so Duke could easily move *all* 12 million tons of ash from the Belews Creek facility in 5-7 years.

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