Duke has ash pits at two power plants in the state. The W.S. Lee plant, which is set to convert to natural gas within a year, has three unlined pits – two that are still in operation and one that was closed in the early 1970s. The other is at an already closed plant in Darlington County where the ash pit has dried up.
Mike Ruhe of Duke said the company will move waste from the site’s inactive dump to a lined pit. The company also plans to close the two remaining dumps, but is still studying the options.
Ultimately, approval of any plans on what to do with the ash pits would fall to the state’s environmental agency.
Duke decided to inspect all its ash pits after a coal ash spill at the utility’s Eden, N.C. plant earlier this year coated over 70 miles of the Dan River with gray material.
Ruhe told regulators the utility is moving waste from the inactive pit to a lined one because of the site’s close proximity to the river. He also said the company has identified some safety concerns with the site’s earthen dams.
Although coal ash contains toxic chemicals, Ruhe noted that toxicity is dose-dependent, and told the commission that coal ash doesn’t pose a public health risk.
However, when pressed by a commission member about groundwater contaminated with coal ash, Ruhe admitted contamination would make the groundwater potentially unsafe to drink.
Duke has faced a number of challenges this year. The company became the focus of a federal grand jury inquiry following the Eden coal ash spill. Following that, two environmental groups photographed the company illegally pumping coal-ash wastewater into the Cape River.