Coal Ash Issue

Duke Energy proposes hooking most coal ash neighbors to public water

Belmont neighbors of Duke Energy’s Allen power plant cook with bottled water after contaminants were found in their well water in 2015.
Belmont neighbors of Duke Energy’s Allen power plant cook with bottled water after contaminants were found in their well water in 2015.

Duke Energy plans to connect most of the 950 homes and businesses near its North Carolina coal ash basins to public water lines, the company said in filings Wednesday.

The proposal follows a new state law passed in response to concerns that metals found in ash might have contaminated private wells. The law requires Duke to offer to hook up neighbors who live within a half-mile of its basins to public water systems or to install filtration systems for their wells.

Duke filed plans Wednesday for communities near 12 of its 14 coal-fired power plants.

It proposes connecting 702 households to public lines, including most neighbors near the Charlotte-area plants – Allen on Lake Wylie, Marshall on Lake Norman and Buck on the Yadkin River in Rowan County. State law favors water lines over filtration. The line connections would cost Duke $18.9 million.

“Being that I’m the closest house to an ash pond probably in the state of North Carolina, less than 200 feet, I have no problem paying a water bill,” said Sherry Gobble, whose family lives next to the Buck plant. “I am very pleased with the outcome.”

But she said the filtration system the Gobbles have already installed at their own expense will keep working even after their home is connected to public water. “When it comes to water, you can’t be too safe,” she said.

Belmont resident Bill Collins, who lives near the Allen plant, said he’s fine with connecting to a public water line. But some of his neighbors, accustomed to well water, dislike the taste and chemicals added to municipal water.

“Those on fixed incomes are kind of freaked out about having a water bill, where they did not before,” he said. As for himself: “When the alternative is possible cancer-causing water, then yes, when you look at the options and the reality of it, I definitely want something.”

Duke wants to offer water filtration to communities around three plants that are far from municipal lines: Belews Creek in Stokes County and Mayo and Roxboro in Person County.

Plans for the Asheville plant and the Sutton plant near Wilmington will be filed by the Dec. 15 deadline. Neighbors of two more plants, Riverbend on Mountain Island Lake and Dan River in Rockingham County, are already served by public systems.

The Department of Environmental Quality has until Jan. 15 to initially approve or reject Duke’s plans. The company will then begin contacting neighbors, starting with mailings and community meetings.

“It is unfortunately not a short process, but the good news is it allows folks to have a choice,” said Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan. State law requires Duke to supply alternative water by October 2018, although Duke could seek one-year extensions.

Costs will be a major factor as plant neighbors weigh their options. Duke says its ash has not contaminated their wells but has supplied bottled water to local residents.

Those who choose connections to public water would have to start paying water bills instead of drinking free groundwater, although Duke will offer one-time payments to help offset those bills. Duke estimates water bills would be $30 to $60 a month, although some residents of Belmont could pay as much as $90 monthly.

“Clearly we have heard loud and clear that people are spooked by a new water bill,” Sheehan said.

Duke will pay for extending water lines and connecting them to homes, but only if most eligible homeowners sign up. DEQ has allowed Duke to plan on spending a maximum of $35,000 per home. If fewer homeowners agree to connect, costs per home could exceed that threshold and potentially jeopardize the plan.

Duke will pay for installation and maintenance of filtration systems. It estimated installation costs at up to $1.8 million.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender