State regulators and Duke Energy officials poured cold water on proposals by environmental groups about what to do with more than 100 millions of tons of coal ash, describing total removal of the ash as lengthy and costly.
The ash contains heavy metals like lead and arsenic. Environmental groups want it removed from ponds on the banks of public rivers and lakes, dried out, and placed in lined landfills, so it can’t leach into water. North Carolina’s solid waste director Dexter Matthews told a committee of lawmakers right now, Duke doesn’t have room.
“The amount of ash in the ponds, if it were removed, and was proposed for disposal in the capacity Duke currently has constructed, it would totally dwarf that capacity,” Matthews said.
Matthews says the amount of ash is so large, putting it in public landfills would take up 15 percent of all available space. Paul Newton, Duke’s North Carolina president of operations, told lawmakers that 20-foot trucks, leaving the site every three minutes, working 12 hours a day, could not quickly remove it.
“The Dan River site would take about two years to be excavated and remove—and that is our smallest site,” Newton said. “At our Marshall plant near Charlotte, at that pace, excavation would take nearly 30 years.”
Newton told lawmakers it could cost as much as $10 billion, not including inflation or interest, to move all the ash to dry storage—cost Duke has said it plans to pass on to ratepayers. Duke has announced it already plans to remove the ash at four sites, including the retired Riverbend plant on Mountain Island Lake. Duke favors leaving the ash, draining the water in the ponds, and covering them with tarps to keep them dry. Newton said that would cost around $2 billion.