by: Jim Bradley Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Duke Energy is under increasing pressure to move its coal ash ponds away from drinking water supplies, like Mountain Island Lake.
A letter from Gov. Pat McCrory stated he wants to see a plan from Duke Energy in two weeks, but experts said any plan to remove millions of tons of ash will be a massive undertaking.
The amount of ash-laced water and sludge in Duke Energy retention ponds near Charlotte is mind-boggling, according to estimates from environmental groups.
“When you look at the coal ash ponds around Charlotte, on Lakes Norman, Mountain Island and Wylie, you have about 5 billion gallons of coal ash in those ponds,” said Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper.
It’s enough to fill Bank of America Stadium roughly five times and Duke Energy officials said the ash itself weighs 36 million tons. It’s been building up on the sites for decades and, in some places, could be 80 feet deep.
Removing it could take years and hundreds of millions of dollars.
State Rep. Mike Hager heads the legislature’s environmental review committee.
“This is not days, weeks or months,” he said. “This is years and could possibly take up to five to 10 years.”
Duke Energy has yet to commit to any plan for its coal ash ponds. That has the attention of city leaders, who put the issue on the agenda of an afternoon committee meeting. They said Charlotte City Council and the public need answers.
“We want to understand what Duke’s plan is to deal with the situation,” said John Autry on the Charlotte City Council. “This body owes it to the citizens of this city.”
Despite the pressure building for Duke Energy to remove coal ash near Charlotte, environmental groups said it’s way too early to claim any victory.
“We’ll believe it when we see it,” Perkins said.
Duke Energy officials said Wednesday it’s taking a new look at how to manage coal ash basins but insists it’s considering options other than removing coal ash.
With the governor giving Duke Energy a two-week deadline, the company doesn’t have much time to make up its mind.