The State newspaper reported Tuesday that Duke officials told the state Public Service Commission they plan to remove coal ash from that closed basin at the Lee Steam Station near Williston. Company officials told commission members they plan to rebury the ash in a lined landfill. Lee’s coal-fired unit is scheduled to close next year. The utility plans to turn the site into a natural gas facility instead.
Duke had come under increased pressure from environmentalists and state regulators over its handling of the coal ash, which includes lead, arsenic, and some carcinogenic materials, along the Saluda River. Much of the material stored at another Duke coal plant in North Carolina spilled into a nearby river back in February.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is requiring Duke to come up with a plan to treat all of its coal ash ponds by the end of the year. That includes the Robinson coal plant near Hartsville, which Duke acquired when it merged with Progress Energy in 2012.
Duke officials said the company has not yet decided whether it will bury the waste at a new landfill on the Lee site or elsewhere.
Environmental groups supported Duke’s announcement, but added the utility still needs to do more.
“Duke Energy’s pledge to remove coal ash from two unlined pits at its Lee facility in South Carolina to lined storage is a good first step,” Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Frank Holleman said. “But it’s absolutely necessary that Duke Energy also move the remaining the coal ash from two active lagoons to ensure safety. The dams for those lagoons fail to satisfy minimum safety requirements for the industry.”
“Until Duke removes the coal ash from the remaining two lagoons, the site is unsafe for the Saluda River and the community.”
The other utilities which maintain coal plants in South Carolina are already removing ash. Santee-Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas moved to dispose of the materials from retired coal plants after settlements with the SELC and other environmental groups.