Wednesday, July 1, 2009

EPA rates 10 Duke coal-ash ponds 'high-hazard potential'

And one of these disasters-waiting-to-happen is 10 miles from my home.

by John Downey, Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ten Duke Energy Carolinas coal-ash retention ponds are on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of 44 potentially high-hazard sites across the nation.

The rating in based on the potential danger to people and property from ash slurry ponds. They do not involve any finding that the retention dams are in danger of failing.

The EPA has inspected all but one of the dams already, says Duke spokesman Jason Walls. The EPA has not inspected the dam at Belews Creek Steam Station north of Winston-Salem.

The agency has not said whether it intends to inspect that dam. Inspection information from Duke and from the state is already available to the agency.

Response to TVA spill

Walls says that in the on-site inspections at the Duke plants, EPA noted no problems that needed to be addressed. But he said the EPA has made no final report as yet. That report on all 44 sites is due later this summer.

Utilities establish the ponds to hold ash from burning the coal that turns the steam turbines at coal-fired plants.

“We are confident based on our monitoring, maintenance and inspections, that each of our ash basin dams have the structural integrity necessary to protect the public and environment,” Walls says.

The list and the subsequent inspections come in response to the failure of a Tennessee Valley Authority dam in December. That released a torrent of coal ash sludge from a 40-acre pond, flooding 15 homes in Harriman, Tenn., west of Knoxville.

Allen, Marshall and Riverbend make list

While some people had to be rescued from their homes, no serious injuries were reported. But the dam failure clearly caused significant damage and created a hazard for local residents.

“The (high-hazard) rating is not an indication of the structural integrity of the unit or the possibility that a failure will occur in the future,” the EPA says in its prepared release. “It merely allows dam safety and other officials to determine where significant damage or loss of life may occur if there is a structural failure of the unit.”

Duke’s 10 sites are one pond at the Allen Steam Plant in Belmont, one at Marshall Steam Station in Terrell, two at Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly, three at Buck Steam Station in Spencer, two at Dan River Steam Station in Eden and one at Belews Creek.

Cliffside not rated

Two Progress Energy ponds, at the Asheville Station in Arden, are also on the list. No ponds in South Carolina made the list.

The high-risk designation relates to proximity to populated areas. And the EPA considered state designations of potential hazards in the list. Because N.C. regulators have rated coal-plant retention ponds and designate high-risk ponds near population centers, their listing was automatic.

Duke’s only N.C. pond not on the list is at the Cliffside Steam Station on the Cleveland-Rutherford county line.

Duke operates two retention ponds in South Carolina, one in Kentucky, 16 in Indiana and seven in Ohio. None of those ponds made the EPA list.

American Electric Power, which operates in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia, had 11 ponds on the high-hazard potential list.

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