This post has been corrected to distinguish the dates of the basin dewatering (2018-19) from the basin closures (2029).
Duke Energy would expedite the dewatering of coal ash basins at three of its power plants ahead of schedule, according to a proposed special consent order  released today between the utility and the NC Department of Environmental Quality.
The three plants under the consent order are considered low risk and due to be closed by 2029 at the latest. But because of the environmental threat associated with the ash basins and their seeps, Duke Energy would “decant” or remove all of the water from three plants on an accelerated schedule: By March 2020 at the Rogers plant Rutherford County, and in June of that year at the Allen site in Gaston County. The Marshall in Catawba County dewatering would be complete by March of 2021.
Under the Coal Ash Management Act , Duke Energy must close all of its coal ash basins in North Carolina by 2029. The closure date depends on how the basins are classified: low, intermediate or high risk, depending on their proximity to sensitive waterways.
Because they are dirt and unlined, these basins naturally leak. (Until now, DEQ has not required these seeps to receive a permit.) At the Allen, Marshall and Rogers plants have leaked coal-ash contaminated water onto nearby land, where it can mix with groundwater. These leaks, once they leave the basin, are called seeps.
Local watchdogs and riverkeepers have found many of the seeps.
Contamination from the Allen and Marshall plants also has leaked into the Catawba River, and from the Rogers plant into the Broad River. Other waterways, including Lake Wylie, Lake Norman and wetlands are also affected.
According to the order, “the presence of coal ash influenced water in the non-engineered seeps causes or contributes to pollution of the waters of this State.”
There are two types of seeps described in the proposed order: engineered, which are intentionally designed and have received federal permits to discharge treated wastewater into nearby rivers; and non-engineered, which are essentially leaks that illegally drain into surface water, groundwater and/or land.
Duke Energy has agreed to pay an $84,000 civil penalty in connection with 21 seeps identified before Jan. 1, 2015. If the utility doesn’t comply with the consent order, DEQ could assess additional penalties, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 per day.
Meanwhile, the utility must identify and report any new “non-engineered” seesps, and monitor and sample discharge from existing ones.
PUBLIC CAN COMMENT ON PROPOSED ORDER
Before the order can be enacted, the agency must open it for public comment and present it to the Environmental Management Commission for approval. A public hearing on the order is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Warren Citizens Center, 115 W. Main St. in Lincolnton.
The public can comment on the proposed order from Jan. 10 to Feb. 14. Written comments on the draft order may be sent to Bob Sledge, NC Division of Water Resources, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1617. Comments may also be submitted electronically to the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org .