State environmental regulators issued a permit to Duke Energy to construct and operate a lined landfill at Belews Creek Steam Station on Friday for the disposal of excavated coal ash.
The N.C. Division of Waste Management said the permit was approved for the Stokes County facility at 3195 Pine Hall Road following an application review and public comment period.
The cost to complete the closure by excavation, including the new landfill, is estimated to be $453 million, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality said in a statement. The cost to perform the 30-year post-closure activities and monitoring is estimated as $181 million.
Duke Energy is expected to start new landfill construction in the fourth quarter and begin excavation for placement into the landfill in the first quarter of 2023. The complete excavation is scheduled for fourth quarter of 2031, and completed final closure and cover system of new landfill by fourth quarter 2032.
The utility has 18 months to begin “substantial construction” on the landfill or the permit expires.
According to the permit, substantial construction includes: issuance of construction contracts; mobilization of equipment on site; and construction activities, including installation of sedimentation and erosion control structures.
“The closure by excavation of the coal ash impoundment is consistent with the 2020 settlement agreement and signed consent order between Department of Environmental Quality, Duke Energy, and community and environmental groups,” according to the department.
Plaintiffs in the litigation were Appalachian Voices, Stokes County branch of NAACP, Mountaintrue, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance and Roanoke River Basin Association.
The division said the 90-acre ash basin landfill “aligns with the Belews Creek Steam Station Impoundment Closure plan,” which the department approved Aug. 17.
The landfill will be located partially within the former footprint of the basin beside Pine Hall Road. It will be designed to hold nearly 14.1 million cubic yards of coal ash and will stand 168 feet tall, rising about 125 feet above Pine Hall Road.
The landfill would have an active lifespan to Nov. 5, 2067, which is when it is projected to reach its final permitted elevation.
The settlement lists the Belews Creek facility’s ash basin as containing 270 acres and holding 11.97 million tons of coal ash.
Duke Energy said it will take from the end of 2031 to the end of 2034 to complete all coal ash evacuation.
The landfill will be subject to groundwater quality and groundwater monitoring of local wells and surface water sampling on at least a semiannual basis.
Duke Energy would be required to provide annual facility reports by Aug. 1.
The unveiling of the Belews Creek landfill plans comes after North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and Duke Energy said Jan. 25 that they had reached a settlement on coal ash clean-up expenses.
The settlement is projected to save Duke Energy customers more than $1.1 billion on power bills over 10 years.
It appears customers still will bear about 75% of the projected $4 billion clean-up costs through 2030.
The total clean-up cost for eight of the utility’s coal-ash retention ponds has been projected at between $8 billion and $9.5 billion. The rest of the expenses will occur after 2030 and may require a new settlement agreement.
The list includes two sites bordering the Triad — Belews Creek and the former Dan River Steam Station near Eden, the retired plant where the spill occurred in 2014.
Determining how much individual customers will save depends in part on the response of the N.C. Utilities Commission to the proposed settlement. The commission, which determines utility rates, is expected to review the settlement shortly, the groups said.
“It’s wrong for North Carolinians to bear the full cost of the clean-up,” Stein said during a virtual press conference. “Duke Energy shareholders should pay (their) fair share.
“This settlement settles this dispute for the next 10 years that is fair to customers. It is a win for every single Duke Energy customer.”
Stein said customer savings would be gained going forward from a reduction in the portion of their bill linked to coal-ash cleanup.
Duke Energy said the settlement would reduce coal ash costs included in the pending rate requests by 60%, “which would provide immediate customer savings if approved.”
Stein, however, does not expect customers to receive a refund from previous coal-ash clean-up related payments.
“It’s very difficult to figure out what this is going to mean for an individual ratepayer,” Stein said. “We feel very positive this is going to have a meaningful impact.
“It is our hope they will see a reduction this year.”
In a separate statement, Duke Energy said the “milestone settlement resolves the last remaining major issues on coal ash management in North Carolina.”