Duke Energy

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke hints at massive rate increases over excavation order

This song is getting painfully old:

In its statement, Duke Energy said excavating the final nine pits would add about “$4 billion to $5 billion to the current estimate of $5.6 billion for the Carolinas.” The company warned that excavation at some sites could take decades, stretching well beyond current state and federal deadlines. It also said excavation would cost significantly more than it would to cap the coal ash under a heavy cover and soil.

Holleman said the company “greatly exaggerates” its cost estimates without taking into account the damage it has caused to the environment and to people’s health. He said the company also underestimates the cost it would incur if it simply drained and capped coal ash in the unlined pits.

Had a conversation (that turned into an argument) recently with a man trying to defend Duke Energy's history of coal ash storage. "Science has come a long way since then" was the major thrust of his argument, trying to give the utility an "out" for not using liners in their coal ash pits. Of course that's not true, because solid waste engineers have known since the late 1960's that toxins can leach into the groundwater from unlined landfills. And of course Duke Energy knew this too, but they were more concerned with returning healthy quarterly dividends than being good stewards of the environment. But hopefully they will soon find out that having us pay for their mistakes won't be as easy as it has been:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Denial is a river in Egypt

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Duke Energy does not like new report on Allen Steam Station:

At the Allen plant on Lake Wylie, coal ash storage sites have polluted groundwater with nine contaminants, including arsenic, cobalt and lithium, at levels exceeding federal safety standards, the report said. The findings, released by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, are based on data that became publicly available for the first time last year because of federal regulations.

Charlotte-based Duke pushed back on the findings, accusing the environmental groups of cherry-picking data in an attempt to advance a misleading narrative and extreme agenda.

If by "cherry-picking" you mean highlighting important data points so they won't get lost in the noise, then yes:

Virginia provides a template for NC on coal ash cleanup

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And it includes making cap-in-place schemes illegal:

The plan would require Dominion to excavate toxic coal ash from unlined and leaky storage ponds along the James, Elizabeth and Potomac rivers and recycle at least 25 percent to “beneficial use” as bricks or concrete, and store the rest in permitted, lined landfills. The plan aims to limit the amount of removal costs passed on to ratepayers, who eventually would pay about $5 more a month, lawmakers said.

Two years ago, lawmakers imposed a moratorium on an approved closure method called “cap-in-place” and directed Dominion to explore alternatives. Cap-in-place has been criticized as inadequate.

Because it *is* inadequate. With no bottom barrier, groundwater seeps in, and then carries contaminants straight down and into rivers and lakes. Each location has individual characteristics that make cap-in-place either somewhat risky or downright crazy, and as SELC has learned in Georgia, utilities simply can't be trusted to judge the difference:

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:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Here come the sludge

And this will be fouling the Neuse River for a long time to come:

Matthew Starr had paddled only a half mile of a stretch of Neuse River near Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee power plant in Goldsboro when he saw initial signs that something had gone very wrong. “There was exposed coal ash on trees, floating in the river, on the road,” said Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper. “There was coal ash lying on the ground. We scooped it up out of the water.”

Flooding from Hurricane Florence had drowned two inactive coal ash basins in five feet of water. The active basins, according to state regulators, were structurally sound, but the Half Mile Branch Creek, according to images published by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), was flowing through the inactive basin complex, which is covered in trees and other vegetation. Cenospheres, hollow balls of silica and aluminum that are coal ash byproducts, were floating on the water. But cenospheres are not entirely innocuous; they often contain arsenic and lead, just like the coal they came from.

This is one of the coal ash sites Duke Energy was ordered to relocate, but in late 2016 they sought for and received approval to recycle that ash instead. In other words, it shouldn't have been there to leak out. At least not in the volume it did. But of course that "volume" is hard to quantify, since we can't trust Duke Energy to be honest about its reporting:

Dam collapses at Duke Energy coal ash impoundment

Sometimes I really hate when my predictions come true:

Torrential rain from Hurricane Florence caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at Duke Energy’s Sutton plant in Wilmington. The utility reported about 2,000 cubic yards of material, including ash, was displaced. For context, the average commercial dump truck holds about 10-14 cubic yards, meaning the amount of displaced material at Sutton was equivalent to 142 dump truck loads.

It’s unclear if the rains carried any coal ash beyond the landfill and into the lake — and if so, how much. The landfill, which is lined, is designed to hold 5 million tons of coal ash in three cells. The utility notified state environmental regulators of the slope failure.

Hat-tip to Lisa Sorg and Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette for keeping us informed on this. Kemp was going to do an on-site (or as close as he could get) inspection yesterday, so hopefully we'll have an accurate photo to go with this story. Here's an update from Kemp:

NC AG Josh Stein fighting NCUC coal ash cleanup decision

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Customers should not have to pay for Duke Energy's negligence:

State utilities regulators late last month decided that both North Carolina divisions of the country’s No. 2 power company could charge ratepayers the first $778 million chunk of a cleanup projected to cost about $5 billion.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said he’s going to court to try stopping Duke Energy from passing along its costs to excavate some ash pits and cover others. Corporate mismanagement increased costs that shareholders should also be forced to bear, he said in an interview. Duke Energy said that it followed industry practices and applicable regulations. “This case will ultimately be decided by the North Carolina Supreme Court,” Stein said.

Bolding mine, because that's a big reason Republicans have been putting so much money and effort into stacking said Court. It's not just to shield them from consequences of passing unconstitutional laws, although that is a factor. Providing legal cover for big business to take advantage of NC citizens will ensure those maximum campaign donations keep flowing in. But one of the most frustrating things about these Utilities Commission rulings is their grossly imbalanced effort to appear balanced:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Virginia defies Scott Pruitt's rollback of CCR rules

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Providing Roy Cooper a blueprint to do the same:

Virginia's governor says the state has no plans to change its coal ash management practices, despite an Environmental Protection Agency plan to roll back regulations governing the byproduct generated by coal-burning power plants. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement Tuesday that the Department of Environmental Quality will maintain its program for regulating coal ash.

The announcement from Northam comes after the EPA announced in March that it was rewriting the rules. It said at the time that the change would save utilities $100 million annually in compliance costs and give states more flexibility in enforcement. Critics said the changes would weaken protections for human health and the environment. The state also filed written comments with EPA, urging the agency not to weaken the rule.

Just a little background: It took several years from the point the EPA announced it was (finally) going to develop rules for storage and disposal of coal ash, and the actual rules being enacted. Reams of research, thousands of hours of testimony and feedback from the public and utilities went into this before it was promulgated. And the end result was (of course) weaker than many of us had hoped. But not weak enough for Scott Pruitt, apparently. He would have done this regardless, but this petition by a couple of utility groups set the formal process in motion:

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