Duke Energy

A Duke Energy power plant and coal ash ponds outside Asheville.
Zen Sutherland

Duke Energy Progress says it will convert another power plant from coal to natural gas.

Duke Energy's plans for the facility at Lake Julian in Asheville are another indication that the energy giant is increasingly relying on natural gas, in part because of its falling price. 

The utility calls the transition for Asheville a "win-win:" cleaner energy and more jobs. Environmentalists say natural gas has its own negative consequences.

Dan River
Steven Alexander, USFWS

In the fall of 2013, some Duke Energy middle managers had a choice to make. Follow the recommendation of an inspector and spend $5,000 on a video camera inspection of a stormwater pipe underneath its Dan River coal ash basin.

Or don’t.

Duke Energy, of course, chose the latter, figuring the pipes would be removed soon, so why waste the money?

A few months later, the corrugated middle-section of the pipe burst, sending 39,000 tons of coal ash into the river.

Duke Energy plant
Duke Energy

A few days after the General Assembly passed the Coal Ash Management Act last fall, Governor Pat McCrory recorded a video and made a claim many in his Republican party have since proudly repeated.

“This bill makes North Carolina the national leader in acknowledging and attacking the coal ash problem that has been building for more than half a century,” McCrory says in the video.

Acknowledging and attacking hasn’t, so far, led to any moving of coal ash. And as far as being a national leader, it’s actually one of our neighbors - South Carolina – that may lay a better claim, says Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

A Duke Energy power plant and coal ash ponds outside Asheville.
Zen Sutherland

Some residents who live near coal ash sites owned by Duke Energy are being told not to drink or cook with water that comes from their wells.

Eighty-seven of the 117 letters (pdf) sent by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources so far have indicated that well water exceeded state groundwater standards for some toxic heavy metals.

A picture of a coal ash pond.
Waterkeeper Alliance

    

This week, Duke Energy has paid $171 million to shareholders and the state of North Carolina.

The first bill was for $146 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed the company misled shareholders when it agreed to a merger with Progress Energy in 2012. The other $25 million was a fine from the state for spilling coal ash at a power plant in Wilmington.

Meanwhile, the conversation continues about how to dispose of the coal ash sitting at 14 sites across the state.

Guest host Phoebe Judge gets an update from WUNC environment reporter Dave DeWitt.

Gasoline prices at the Carrboro Food Mart gas station in April 2013
Laura Candler

Gasoline and natural gas have hit record-low prices in the last few months. It was hailed as overwhelmingly good news for consumers and the economy.

But the price you pay at the pump may not be the real cost.

“So the real cost of that gallon of gas is the price you pay at the pump plus about four dollars,” says Drew Shindell, a professor of climate change at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Shindell wrote a paper that calculates the “social cost” of energy, or the total cost to society.

sutton power plant
Duke Energy

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has fined Duke Energy more than $25 million over coal ash leaks at a retired power plant in Wilmington. 

According to DENR, it’s the largest environmental fine in the state’s history – five times higher than any previous fine. It is punishment for coal ash leaching into the ground water at the Sutton Power Plant over several years.

Contaminants included arsenic, selenium, and boron. 

PHOTO: The coal ash pond at the Duke Energy power plant by the Dan River
NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources

A deal has been reached to end a federal grand jury investigation into Duke Energy over the Dan River coal ash spill.

"We are accountable for what happened at Dan River and have learned from this event," said Lynn Good, president and CEO of Duke Energy, in a statement. "We are setting a new standard for coal ash management and implementing smart, sustainable solutions for all of our ash basins.”

The Dan River bank with residual dark grey coal ash.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

Duke Energy says it is close to a settlement with federal authorities over the Dan River coal ash spill.

After the spill last February, U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker launched a grand jury investigation.

In an earnings conference call this morning, Duke Energy CEO Lyn Good said that a $100 million settlement could be filed in the coming days.

Tom Augspurger (l), USFWS, taking core sample during February 8th reconnaissance of Dan River coal ash spill. (l-r) Tom Augsperger, USFWS, John Fridell, USFWS, Rick Smith, Duke Energy. Photo by Steve Alexander, USFWS..
Steve Alexander / USFWS

In retrospect, running a storm pipe under an unlined coal ash pit was a bad idea. One year ago today, such a pipe under such a pit leaked 39,000 tons of toxic ash into the Dan River.

A week after the spill, Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks all but admitted the design was flawed.

“It was not a design that we placed in our other plants, certainly, and it was not the original design of the plant,” he said then. “So it’s something we’ll have to look at in our investigation.”

Pages