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Duke puts $7B–$10B price tag on North Carolina coal-ash cleanup

News | April 25, 2014 | By:

Estimated $2B-$2.5B for Dan River, Riverbend, Asheville sites

Paul Newton, Duke Energy’s state president in North Carolina, spoke this week before the N.C. Joint Environmental Review Commission (ERC) regarding the company’s response to the Feb. 2 Dan River coal ash incident and its near-term and longer-term actions to address coal ash across the state, according to a Duke news release.

“Duke Energy is committed to working with policymakers and regulators to implement both short- and long-term solutions to coal ash management in North Carolina,” said Newton.

Cost estimates for Duke’s coal ash plans
The news release noted that Newton said the combination of the company’s previous plans, and its more recent actions outlined in its March 12 letter to N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and N.C. Department of Environment & Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla, are estimated to cost approximately $2 billion to $2.5 billion.

The release said that these plans assume the following costs and activities:

  • The costs of excavating and relocating ash from the company’s Dan River and Riverbend sites to a lined structural fill or lined landfill.
  • The costs to continue to move ash from the Asheville plant to a lined structural fill.
  • The costs to convert three remaining coal units to dry fly ash systems.
  • A hybrid “cap in place” closure approach for the company’s remaining 10 coal plant sites in N.C. This provides for some excavation on sites to consolidate ash, with a synthetic barrier to keep ash dry and protect groundwater. Site-specific studies have been under way to determine the most appropriate closure method.
  • Dry bottom ash handling at operating sites in N.C. This type of system transports bottom ash wet and then stores it dry.

Costs increase to excavate and remove all ash from coal sites
Although excavating and relocating ash in basins is warranted at some sites, costs increase by $4 billion to $5.5 billion with a one-size-fits-all “excavate and remove” approach across the N.C. coal fleet, Newton said.

He also said that there is no available capacity at Duke Energy’s existing lined landfills to receive excavated ash, so there would be a need to site, permit, and construct new lined landfills or structural fills. The time to relocate basin ash to new lined landfills or structural fills would take approximately 20 to 30 years, Newton added.

Newton said if the company is also required to convert to all dry-ash handling systems, the costs would increase an additional $1 billion to $2 billion. These steps, added to the total excavate and remove approach, collectively would cost a total of $7 billion to $10 billion.

“The intensive analysis of our coal sites will continue during the rest of this year,” Newton said. “This work, combined with our guiding principles, will further inform closure strategies and related costs.

“In our view, the best approach to manage coal ash for our customers and North Carolina lies somewhere along this spectrum, with steps that address ash at both retired and operating plants. We look forward to working constructively with our regulators to achieve prudent, environmentally sound and cost-effective solutions,” Newton added.

The news release said that the costs outlined in Duke Energy’s plans are approximations subject to completing detailed engineering studies. They do not include costs associated with financing, inflation, and increases in operating and maintenance expenses.

Management of coal ash is a national issue
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are 676 ash basins in the U.S. and Duke Energy has 33 in North Carolina, about half of which are inactive. Fly ash accounts for about 80% of the ash produced, and bottom ash makes up the other 20%.

In 2013, Duke Energy produced 1.8 million tons of ash at its North Carolina plants and approximately 67% of this was reused or recycled beneficially in structural fill, cement, cinder blocks, and other construction materials, according to the news release.

Go to Duke Energy’s website for more information about ash management activities, its plans at specific plants and its response to the Dan River incident.

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