Duke Energy has removed nearly 650,000 tons of coal ash from ash pits located near the banks of the Saluda River in Anderson County.
According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, which negotiated a settlement in 2015 with Duke Energy on behalf of Upstate Forever and Save Our Saluda, Duke has removed 15% of the ash located at the W.S. Lee facility near Williamston. The company had stored approximately 3.6 million tons of coal ash at the site.
“This first step makes this coal ash site safer and removes ash from unlined old pits right on the banks of the Saluda,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the SELC, in a statement. “As this cleanup moves forward, coal ash pollution of the Saluda River will drop.”
According to Duke Energy, the company is in the process of excavating nearly 1.4 million tons of coal ash from an inactive coal ash basin at W.S. Lee. That material is being transported to a lined landfill in Homer, Ga. Once that removal is complete, the company said only 56% of coal ash will remain on the site.
“It (remaining ash) will be located on existing plant property and will provide a permanent storage solution for approximately 2.2 million tons of coal ash remaining on the site,” said Danielle Peoples, Duke Energy spokeswoman, in an email.
Under the terms of the settlement, Duke has five years to remove all coal ash from its old storage pits along the Saluda River and 10 years to remove ash from all unlined pits at W.S. Lee. Duke is also required to give the environmental groups updates on the removal process.
“This is the only unlined utility coal ash storage site in the Upstate, and now the removal of that coal ash is well underway,” said Andrea Cooper, executive director of Upstate Forever, in a statement. “The removal of this ash is a major step forward in protecting the Upstate’s rivers from industrial pollution.”
Duke Energy is constructing a combined-cycle natural gas plant at the W.S. Lee location. The new plant is expected to be complete later in 2017 and the original steam plant currently operates one unit powered by natural gas, according to Duke.
The company is also removing coal ash from unlined pits at its Robinson Plant in Darlington. In North Carolina, Duke Energy is removing coal ash from unlined basins at eight of its 14 sites in the state. Litigation continues regarding the coal ash at the remaining six North Carolina locations in the Catawba, Broad and Dan River basins.