Duke Energy

Duke Energy self-reports "no contamination found" in Lumberton

In a related story, Fluffy the dog says, "I don't know who tore up that couch pillow, but I'll keep an eye out."

Tests near the coal ash site at the closed Weatherspoon Power Plant in Lumberton show no hazardous levels of toxic material, Duke Energy officials said Thursday. Duke just competed groundwater testing near the Lumberton plant, according to Duke spokeswoman Zenica Chatman. The tests showed no impact on nearby wells or the Lumber River, she said.

"We're very encouraged by what we're seeing," she said.

She says, while looking at the stock readout showing Duke Energy's stock stabilizing at around $72 per share. As is often the case when PR makes it into the regular news columns, there's more to be learned in the commentary:

Duke Energy coal ash propaganda in the op-ed columns

Misleading people is much cheaper than environmental stewardship:

In response to your Aug. 18 editorial ("Why not recycle coal ash instead of burying it?"), we at Duke Energy agree that as much coal ash as possible should be recycled. State policy leaders also strongly support the option and outlined provisions in the N.C. Coal Ash Management Act to encourage recycling.

The structural fill projects at the mines in Lee and Chatham counties, for example, are a form of beneficial reuse for the ash stored in basins. By reclaiming those sites and safely placing coal ash in them with many layers of protective liners, we will help repurpose land that can be reused for future development.

Bolding mine. There is only going to be one "liner" in the classic sense of a man-made polymer, the rest are a couple of layers of various composites of clay. Calling those "liners" is like calling the leaves over your head a roof. And that single polymer liner won't be a continuous (as in unbroken) liner, it will be several pieces that need to be connected and sealed, hopefully properly. But even if that liner doesn't leak, the nasty leachate water from the coal ash isn't going to stay in the impoundment, it's going to be pumped out on a regular basis and disposed of:

Coal Ash Wednesday: DENR to permit massive discharges from Sutton Plant

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It's not a "leak" if they let you spill it:

A public hearing on a discharge permit related to Duke Energy’s planned coal-ash cleanup has been moved to Aug. 6, a day later than originally scheduled.

Duke Energy is excavating and reburying 7.2 million tons of coal ash on the plant site to comply with a state law requiring the utility to close and clean up its coal-ash ponds throughout North Carolina. The Sutton plant was among the first on the list for cleanup because it has been actively leaking toxic substances into the groundwater and the Cape Fear River.

I'm not naïve, I realize the impoundments need to be "de-watered" before they can be dug up and hauled away. But just because the river is right there handy doesn't mean polluting it is the only way to go. They wouldn't be allowed to do that if it were a Superfund site, and considering the toxins involved, the only difference is in the name. Here's part of the NPDES Permit:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Groups challenge proposed coal ash dumps

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If It's such a good idea, why the shortcuts?

The groups—the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump (CCACAD) and EnvironmentaLEE—filed a petition for a contested case hearing with the state's Office of Administrative Hearings Monday. The office hears legal cases against state agencies such as DENR.

In their legal challenge, the nonprofits say DENR's actions will have a "significant and adverse impact on the health and well-being" of the environmental groups' members, as well as their families and their property. The challenge also claims that DENR acted "erroneously" and regulated the projects as mine reclamation projects rather than landfills. "Communities targeted for coal ash disposal deserve a regulatory agency that has their best interests at heart, not what is in the best interest of Duke Energy," said BREDL community organizer Therese Vick in a statement. "DENR had sufficient reason to deny the permits, and they did not."

I realize other groups want this to proceed as quickly as possible, so the leaking from various older ponds will be brought to a halt. But that's no reason to ignore the same kinds of bad decisions that led to the coal ash crisis in the first place.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Swimming in industry propaganda

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Duke Energy hires a professional liar to represent their interests:

Rudo and Duke’s expert, Lisa Bradley, a nationally known expert in coal ash toxicology, also clashed over the chemical element vanadium. They split over whether the state had issued “do not drink” recommendations to dozens of well owners based on vanadium findings less than those people routinely encounter safely in everyday life.

“So you’re getting more in your daily vitamin than you would drinking water at that screening level,” Bradley said of the state’s trigger level for issuing “do not drink” warnings for vanadium found in wells.

Wall Street is betting you and I will pay for coal ash cleanup

And Duke Energy shareholders are already reaping the benefits:

The aforementioned state legislation imposed a moratorium on Duke from seeking any sort of rate increase related to the clean-up through mid-January this year. But last week, the ratings agency Fitch upgraded Duke’s credit rating, in part reflecting the “significant, albeit manageable” coal-ash clean-up costs, as well as its expectation that the costs incurred will be recoverable from ratepayers.

Clearly, the market believes Duke will recover costs via ratepayers. The stock hit a high at the end of January, before the general correction in utilities sparked a selloff.

Once again we're entering the "tail wagging the dog" territory, where the stock market determines business behavior instead of the other way around, like it's supposed to. The same thing happened leading up to the mortgage crisis, and you see where that got us. Due to the NC Utilities Commission's bent responsibility to ensure utilities remain "profitable," Duke Energy can legally argue that not allowing them to recover costs from ratepayers will bring down their stock values, thus hurting their overall profits. The fact that Duke's stock price was artificially inflated in anticipation of the NCUC's ruling will not even be mentioned, unless the public representative or somebody like NCWARN brings it up. That's no way to do the people's business.

Coal Ash Wednesday: 12 more NC sites to be excavated

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And the people in Chatham and Lee Counties said, "Wait, what?"

The residue of coal burned to generate power will be removed from 12 more waste pits at plants in Moncure, Goldsboro, Lumberton and Mooresboro, the country's largest electric company said. Most of the ash, which contains toxic heavy metals, would be moved to former open-pit clay mines in Chatham and Lee counties.

"We're making strong progress to protect groundwater and close ash basins, delivering on our commitment to safe, sustainable, long-term solutions," Duke Energy Chief Executive Officer Lynn Good said in a written statement.

That makes a total of (I believe) 20 coal ash impoundments that will be re-dumped into 2 counties. If the new impoundments hold, and the numerous coal trains don't scatter dust all over the place, this should be a net positive. Of course, I don't live in either of those counties, and I hesitate to gloss over their concerns. We'll keep watching.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Restoring the Dan River

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Mitigation planners are seeking public input for projects:

A state-federal team is seeking public comment on its plan to assess natural resource damage from Duke Energy’s 2014 spill of coal ash into the Dan River.

Federal law lets state and federal agencies pursue claims against Duke to restore, replace or acquire natural resources equal to those that were damaged, and to seek cash compensation.

Trustees have already determined the types of projects that should be considered (see page 27 of the Plan large pdf), which includes conservation acquisitions, buffer zones, and recreational (boating & swimming) access. The public has until July 17 to submit input to: Sara Ward, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 33726, Raleigh 27636-3726, or Sara_Ward@fws.gov.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Sutton plant leaking like a sieve

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And Duke Energy is more concerned with legal battles than safe drinking water:

Tests have found elevated levels of boron, a metal that is a recognized indicator of coal ash contamination, in monitoring wells near the plant and in three water supply wells about a half-mile away, according to Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials. "The levels of boron in these wells are a clear indication that coal ash constituents from Duke Energy’s coal ash impoundments have infiltrated the groundwater supply," Tom Reeder, an assistant secretary for DENR, said in a statement. "We are ordering Duke Energy to immediately take corrective actions to prevent further migration of coal ash contaminants."

Coal Ash Wednesday: Permits? We don't need no stinking permits

Duke Energy's coal ash disposal "experts" are already in trouble with regulators:

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources cited Green Meadow LLC and Moncure Holdings LLC with violating state regulations by starting grading and earth-moving work at the Brickhaven No. 2 mine without first obtaining a construction stormwater permit.

It also issued a notice of deficiency to Green Meadow for failing to meet the conditions of the mining permit at Brickhaven by neglecting to install erosion-control devices at the site before starting the grading work.

Tom Reeder might think this is no big deal, but the implications are sobering. If these two entities are either inept or uncaring when it comes to following required methods of construction, the integrity of the entire project is called into question. And if Duke Energy succeeds in convincing the NCUC to allow them to charge ratepayers for this work, we may be paying a hefty price to move coal ash from one leaking pond to another leaking pond.

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