- The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality last week issued a letter to Duke Energy requesting it determine the amount of coal ash released into the Neuse River after inactive ash basins flooded near the H.F. Lee power plant in Goldsboro.
- The letter followed publication of photos of the area by the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental group, that appear to show a larger amount of ash released from the basins in flooding following Hurricane Matthew. Duke last week said the amount of ash released would not fill "the bed of an average pickup truck," though continued flooding made a full assessment impossible.
- Duke officials said Monday much of the photographed material was cenospheres, an inert byproduct of coal generation, and not coal ash. The utility said it is finalizing a cleanup plan for the state but still believes the amount of ash released was small and that surrounding water quality has not been affected.
In the first days after Duke Energy discovered that flooding had released coal ash from an inactive basin at the decommissioned H.F. Lee plant, the utility said the amount of coal ash discharged was minimal.
Environmental groups, including the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, have argued otherwise, saying in a statement that last week that photos of the area show “a substantial but undetermined amount of coal ash," along the Neuse River, reports Think Progress.
North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality letter to Duke Energy requests the utility submit a plan of action to address the release. The plan should include estimates on type and amounts of coal ash released, assessments of the impoundments that are damaged, as well as the structure of the inactive basins, sampling and monitoring arrangements, and a timeline for completion of assessments.
The letter further takes care to note that the DEQ will pursue further action and investigations if it feels that it is necessary to do so at the H.F. Lee Energy Complex. Paige Sheehan, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, said in a statement to Utility Dive that Duke had conducted three inspections last week at the H.F. Lee site and is now considering next steps to measuring ash quantity and identifying any necessary cleanup. She also said that the utility still doesn't see much change in the amount of coal ash they had originally cited.
"As flood waters receded, I don’t believe there has been any measurable change in the amount of coal ash we believe moved out of the inactive basin – still less than a pickup truck full. During second and third inspections we saw cenospheres, an inert byproduct of coal generation. They’ve been used in lots of products including fabrics, bowling balls and more," said Sheehan.
"We’re already working on the plan the state requested and will submit that soon," she added. "Water samples downriver of the inactive basins continue to show no measurable coal ash constituents."
Environmental groups in the state, however, assert that Duke Energy, which has been increasingly eyed by environmental watchdogs and North Carolina state officials for its handling of coal ash since the 2014 Dan River spill, is not saying the full amount of coal ash that had been released, reports the Winston-Salem Journal.
North Carolina is one of the few states with laws governing coal ash disposal, and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed off on a compromise coal ash bill in July that requires Duke Energy to clean up coal ash pits at half of its sites without having to excavate the waste as long as the utility supplies clean drinking water to residents near the ponds by 2018.
Owners and utility operators are required to enter their closure plans into each facility’s operating record by Oct. 17 and post the information on a publicly-accessible website within 30 days. The information will be available on Duke Energy’s CCR compliance website by Nov. 16 and regulators will be notified of their availability.