Duke Energy is asking the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to assign a low-risk classification for the Belews Creek Steam Station ash impoundment in its final risk classifications which are set to be released in on May 18.
In a written comments submitted to the DEQ on April 18 the company argues that a medium or high risk classification would require the impoundment to be closed through excavation, a requirement which the company says could have more dangerous environmental impacts than draining the ash pond and capping it in place.
“We want to do what is needed to protect the environment but not create broader safety or environmental impacts if it’s not truly necessary,” said Duke spokeswoman Zenica Chatman. “In many respects, closing basins on plant property with a protective cap better protects the local and broader environment. It eliminates the need for new disposal locations, lowers transportation emissions, reduces community impacts and minimizes safety concerns. For example, it would take over 650,000 truck trips to move all the material at Belews Creek, if there’s not enough on-site disposal space. Imagine those trucks rumbling past neighborhoods for two decades. Capping also accelerates how quickly we can complete the work. Removing the water from a basin and capping it can occur in months and years, while excavation would require decades for some of these basins. Even working aggressively, excavation would take about 20 years at some of our larger sites.”
The company argues that the DEQ has not fully taken into account all nine factors required by the Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA) in creating its initial risk assessments of coal ash facilities across the state.
“The Department failed to include in its proposed risk rankings the ninth statutory factor—any other factor relevant to establishment of the risk,’ the company argues in its written comments. “This consideration is essential to proper classification of Duke Energy’s CCR surface impoundments. Importantly, NC DEQ failed to consider the net environmental impacts/benefits associated with the two primary coal combustion residuals (CCR )surface impoundment closure methods—closure-by-removal and cap-in-place.
“Excavation is simply not the safest, most practical, or best ash basin closure method,” argues Duke. “Technical and/or scientific reasons prompted the Company to recommend excavation at the Cape Fear, H.F. Lee, and Weatherspoon Plants; however, those conditions are not present at all other sites. At some of the Company’s larger CCR surface impoundments, it literally would take two to three decades to close a basin by excavation, and closure-by-removal would present myriad adverse environmental, community, and safety impacts.”
The written comments note that a low-risk classification would not preclude closure by excavation, if the science determined that was the best solution, but would also not require it as higher risk ratings would.
The company claims that groundwater modeling results have shown little benefit could be achieved through a complete excavation of the site.
In its April written comments, Duke Energy notes that if water supplies are impacted from ground water migration the “most prudent course of action is to plan for an alternate water supply and/or aggressive groundwater remediation, in combination with a closure design protective of groundwater, which may or may not involve ash excavation.”
The company also argues that ongoing improvements on the ash pond dam will resolve any dam safety considerations.
Duke cites a number of other power companies throughout the country who are closing ash basins through a cap-in-place method, frequently referencing a draft environmental impact statement by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and notes that closure by excavation will result in greater costs for the company.
“Proper consideration of the net environmental impacts of excavation, combined with the fact that closure-by removal costs dramatically more with little to no measurable environmental benefit, supports a final low-risk classification for all impoundments identified by the Department in the Proposed Classifications document,” reads the comments.
Duke estimates that the Belews Creek ash impoundment contains over 12 million tons of coal ash and could take between 12 and 24 years to fully excavate. Please visit thestokesnews.com on May 18 to see the final DEQ risk classifications for the Belews Creek Steam Station.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.