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Duke Energy says it is 'well down the path' to closing coal ash ponds

Duke Energy Corp. said Dec. 18 it has excavated about 22 million tons of coal ash, including more than 5 million tons in the past year, and plans to completely excavate at least seven additional basins in coming months.

Duke Energy outlined its ash excavation as part of a progress update on its plans to close 56 coal ash basins at 21 power plants to comply with state and federal environmental regulations.

Duke Energy said it will "stop sending ash and wastewater to nearly all basins" in early 2019, which is "well in advance of state and federal requirements." Duke Energy pointed out that it has built dry bottom ash handling systems, lined water treatment basins and lined retention basins at several operating coal plants.

In addition, Duke Energy has excavated ash at seven basins located at its Asheville coal plant and James E. Rogers Energy Complex in North Carolina; W.S. Lee coal plant in South Carolina; and at the Cayuga, Gibson and R. Gallagher coal-fired power plants in Indiana.

The company said it plans to complete excavation over the next few months at basins located at the Dan River, Riverbend and L.V. Sutton sites in North Carolina, as well as the East Bend site in Kentucky.

"A vital step in closure is to remove the free water from the basins, which will happen at both excavated and capped facilities," Duke Energy said in a news release. "That process is underway at many locations and is the most effective step in improving groundwater quality. In addition, the company has begun work to determine additional corrective actions to improve groundwater, and it will monitor groundwater for decades to ensure that the environment remains well protected."

Duke Energy also addressed filings it released in compliance with reporting requirements in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2015 Coal Combustion Residuals rule. The company's filings indicate all of its unlined coal ash basins in the Carolinas are polluting groundwater.

Duke Energy said the information posted on its website indicates "groundwater near the edges of ash basins does not meet federal standards, as expected."

"It is important to note that these are not drinking water well samples and the broader body of evidence tells us that drinking water around Duke Energy facilities remains well-protected from plant operations," the company said. "The information is intended to help inform closure decisions, but Duke Energy has already made that commitment and the company is well down the path to safely closing all ash basins in ways that protect people and the environment."