Why Duke Energy opposes excavating all coal ash

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good talks coal ash cleanup

Duke CEO Lynn Good discussed recovery of Duke's ash cleanup costs from customers in a 2014 interview.
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Duke CEO Lynn Good discussed recovery of Duke's ash cleanup costs from customers in a 2014 interview.

More than 16,000 men and women of Duke Energy – and nearly 10,000 more retirees – are proud to call North Carolina home. And like our friends and neighbors, from Asheville to Wilmington and points in between, we want the communities where we live and work to be vibrant, healthy and prosperous.

Our contribution to that has been to produce reliable, affordable and safe electricity, which for more than a century has powered economic growth and vitality in our state. Much of that electricity was produced with coal – a fuel source that is rapidly being displaced by solar, clean natural gas and other, cleaner options. In fact, in North Carolina today, half of the electricity we generate is 100% free of any carbon emissions.

Now we are managing the legacy of the coal-fueled electricity that built this state by permanently closing all basins where coal ash is stored. Guided by science and engineering, we have made tremendous progress, which includes full excavation of basins where doing so makes sense.

The state’s order

It’s big, complex task, and when it comes to major engineering challenges, a “one size fits all” approach rarely works. However, a recent order by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) takes that very approach by mandating that we close the last basins using only excavation.

State and federal laws have recognized two main options to close basins, both of which effectively protect people and the environment – capping a basin in-place or excavating it. We’re pursuing both approaches, with customized plans that make sense for each site.

But NCDEQ has unilaterally ordered that we use only the most extreme option to close the remaining basins. It made its decision following a flawed process that is counter to state law dealing with coal ash management, and despite the fact that NCDEQ has already ruled that these basins present “low risk” to water sources and communities.

The NCDEQ order would drastically increase closure costs, adding as much as $5 billion to the $5.6 billion previously estimated for the Carolinas, and add decades of disruption to the places we live – and it does so without measurable environmental or public health benefit compared to safely capping the ash in place.

Intention to appeal

It’s our duty to put customers first, and our approach has us on track to close basins quickly, safely and affordably. NCDEQ’s approach is far more expensive and disruptive without measurable benefit to the customers and communities we serve. That is why we have decided to appeal the NCDEQ order.

Duke Energy’s carbon emissions are down 30 percent and soon will be down 40 percent. We have helped North Carolina become the No. 2 state in solar energy production. And we are moving aggressively to advance these and other environmental goals. But if the NCDEQ order stands, it will delay the end of the coal-ash era by decades and add billions in additional costs to customers. There is a better solution for North Carolina families.

Stephen De May is the North Carolina President for Duke Energy.