Following an application review and public comment period, the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Waste Management issued a permit this week to allow Duke Energy to construct and operate the first of three new, lined onsite landfills at the Allen Steam Station near Belmont for the disposal of excavated coal ash.
The issuance of the permit for the North Starter Landfill aligns with the Allen Steam Station Impoundment Closure Plan, which the Department approved for the facility’s two ash basins on October 28th of last year. The closure by excavation of the coal ash impoundments is consistent with the 2020 Settlement Agreement and signed Consent Order between DEQ, Duke Energy, and community and environmental groups.
Allen Steam Station, located at 253 Plant Allen Road (NC 273) south of Belmont, will have three landfills constructed to dispose of excavated coal ash residuals. The North Starter Landfill will be the first constructed, located partially within the former footprint of the Retired Ash Basin in the property’s northwest portion. Approximately 25 acres, it will be designed to hold nearly 2.3 million cubic yards of coal ash and will stand 130 feet tall, rising approximately 50 feet above Southpoint Road.
Duke Energy burned coal to generate electricity at multiple locations, including Plant Marshall on Lake Norman west of Mooresville and Plant Allen at Belmont. The power plants were located on major waterways because they needed a plentiful source of water for cooling. After coal was burned, Duke would mix the ash with water and pipe it into a pond. No liners were put down, and Duke dumped the mix of coal ash and water into the pond, where the bulk of the ash would settle.
Coal ash contains mineral contaminants that can create health problems if they get into drinking water.
In February 2014, a Duke Energy coal ash pit spilled more than 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River north of Eden, NC, creating an emergency and raising concerns about environmental and economic impacts for communities for miles downstream. The incident helped bring to light the danger imposed by the coal ash ponds.
After many discussions with DEQ, Duke has agreed to a plan that would cap the coal ash ponds. Environmental groups including the Catawba Riverkeeper, say that's a less than perfect solution. At the bottom of the pond, they say, even with the ash capped in place, the coal ash remains significantly below the groundwater table.
This latest DEQ decision is likely not the end of the controversy, but it is an important chapter in the story.
For those interested, a copy of the permit to construct and operate the landfill can be found at: https://edocs.deq.nc.gov/WasteManagement/DocView.aspx?id=1556083&dbid=0&repo=WasteManagement. For information about the Allen Steam Station coal ash closure activities, go to: https://deq.nc.gov/news/key-issues/coal-ash-excavation/allen-steam-station-coal-ash-closure.