Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina’

VIDEO: “Contaminated, But Smart!”- Duke Energy’s New Coal Ash Assessment

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 - posted by sarah

Duke Energy claims coal ash pollution stops at their boundary, impacted families angered

On Monday evening, Duke Energy released the executive statement from the company’s study assessing the groundwater contamination at two of their largest coal ash sites in North Carolina, at the Allen and Buck Steam Stations in Belmont and Salisbury, respectively. Unsurprisingly, Duke Energy’s finding suggested they were likely not responsible for the contamination found in the drinking water wells of over 200 households within 1,000 feet of the company’s coal ash dumps.

From Duke’s executive summary:

Based on data obtained during this CSA, the groundwater flow direction, and the extent of exceedances of boron and sulfate, it appears that groundwater impacted by the ash basin is contained within the Duke Energy property boundary.

Check out local Belmont resident’s reaction to the the summary:

Duke Energy has not proven that contamination from ash basins isn’t moving in the direction of the neighbors’ wells. They have only said what “appears” to be the case, and while they may hope it gives them some legal cover (though that certainly remains to be seen), it does nothing to assuage the overwhelming concerns and fears of families who have been told their water is unsafe for drinking and cooking.

One glaring omission is that Duke Energy did not test for hexavalent chromium, a dangerous heavy metal and known carcinogen that has been found at high levels in dozens of private wells neighboring the utility’s coal ash dumps. According to the Charlotte Observer, Duke did not report results for hexavalent chromium because of a “a lack of time to collect and analyze the data.”

This isn’t the first time Duke Energy has neglected to test for the harmful contaminant; they have never tested for hexavalent chromium, and therefore there is no historical data on which to base their claims that the heavy metal is not migrating to neighbors’ wells from the company’s coal ash ponds.

Trivalent chromium can transform into its more toxic form, hexavalent chromium when it comes in contact with high-heat industrial processes (like burning coal). Exceedances for total chromium have been found in groundwater monitoring results conducted by Duke Energy at their property line. How much of that chromium is hexavalent is unknown.

Duke Energy’s release of the report comes on the heels of a N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources blog post stating that the agency has tested 24 background wells and found levels of contaminants similar to those in private wells.

Although DENR claims that the levels are similar, the agency has yet to make the actual levels public. However, at a community meeting hosted by the N.C.Department of Health and Human Services and DENR last Thursday, Dr. Ken Rudo, the state toxicologist began the meeting by disclosing the levels of hexavalent chromium found in the background wells.

Dr. Rudo revealed that of the 24 wells sampled, 23 had levels of hexavalent chromium between “non-detect” (meaning the levels are too low for labs to read) to 1.7 parts per billion (ppb). Rudo explained that in communities within 1,000 feet of Duke’s coal ash sites, 120 to 140 wells showed levels of hexavalent chromium that exceed the average levels of the background wells.

Clean Water for AllSo why are both DENR and Duke making statements that hexavalent chromium is naturally occurring when the numbers don’t necessarily demonstrate that?

The state’s health screening level for hexavalent chromium is .07 ppb. In Belmont, levels of hexavalent chromium found in wells range from .24 ppb to a whopping 5 ppb. At Thursday’s meeting, Dr. Rudo explained that the standard for hexavalent chromium is based on up-to-date science and standards in other states, and that the state health department “can defend these standards in any venue that we need to defend them.” He also warned the crowd that he is

“…much more concerned about the effects of hexavalent chromium because the science is so clear that hexavalent chromium is a chemical that has significant risk associated with it. It’s a mutagenic carcinogen, so any level can pose a risk, by definition.”

When asked by a resident if Dr. Rudo would drink her water, he firmly replied, “no”.

So where does this leave the residents who are living on bottled water? Still confused and scared about the safety of their water, nervous about their home values, wondering if they have been giving their children contaminated water to drink.

Duke Energy needs to collect data on hexavalent chromium in order to provide a more complete picture.

In the Neighborhood: Living with Coal Ash

Thursday, August 6th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

Tracey Edwards speaks in Walnut Cove, N.C., where the NAACP announced it would investigate whether black communities are disproportionately affected by environmental contamination. Photo by Jaimie McGirt

Tracey Edwards speaks in Walnut Cove, N.C., where the NAACP announced it would investigate whether black communities are disproportionately affected by environmental contamination. Photo by Jaimie McGirt

By Sandra Diaz

Tracey Edwards, a lifelong resident of Stokes County, resides within three miles of the coal-fired Belews Creek Steam Station, and is concerned about the coal ash the plant generates.

As a child growing up in the mostly African-American neighborhood of Walnut Tree, Edwards played outside and ate from neighborhood apple and cherry trees. She remembers the same ash that fell on the neighborhood also covered her father’s clothes when he came from work at the Belews Station.

Today, that ash is captured by air pollution controls and is stored with other waste the plant produces. The Belews Steam Station has one unlined, 350-acre pit of ash and water, as well as three dry landfills, one unlined, scattered within a mile of the plant. The ash is contaminating nearby groundwater and may also be affecting well water, which many residents rely on for drinking and other household uses.

Edwards’ family has a history of inexplicable health issues. Her father was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2002. Her mother, Annie, began to have neurological issues, which eventually her left hand clenched up into a permanent fist; puzzled doctors tentatively diagnosed it as multiple sclerosis.

By 44, Tracey had suffered three strokes, and now she has a defibrillator. Her neighbors have also experienced abnormally high incidences of illnesses, Edwards says, such as strokes and cancers.

Due to a new state law, Duke Energy is now required to test drinking water wells within 1,500 feet of all North Carolina ash ponds. So far, several homes near the Belews plant have received “do-not-drink” notices, but Duke has not sampled dozens more within the testing radius. Of the 446 wells identified for testing statewide, results from 327 have been analyzed by the state health department, and 301 homeowners have received “do not drink” notices. Most of the wells tested high for vanadium or hexavalent chromium, both known carcinogens.

In 2014 Edwards and her mother helped form Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup, which hosts monthly meetings to discuss how to hold Duke Energy accountable for their coal ash pollution. After her mother passed away last September, Edwards continued to work with the group.

In May, Stokes County commissioners allowed the state to take a core sample for natural gas, and the preliminary results hinted that gas may be present, raising new concerns that fracking operations could create seismic activity that could damage the coal ash impoundment.

“I live here, my children live here. and I don’t want anyone else to get sick,” says Edwards. “We just want safe clean air and water. We can’t exist without clean water.”

Community Rallies Around Need for Energy Efficiency in the High Country

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by jamie

Over 1,000 residents support greater energy efficiency investments to grow economy, lower energy costs

Rory McIlmoil, Energy Policy Director,
Sarah Kellogg, North Carolina Field Organizer,
(828) 262-1500

Boone, N.C. — More than thirty local residents, service organizations and local government officials gathered for an event Wednesday evening at the Jones House in Boone to raise awareness about the need for greater investments in energy efficiency in the High Country. Speakers included: Zach Dixon, Brooke Walker, Violet Scholar and Mary Ruble — local residents who need or have benefitted from home energy improvements; Sam Zimmerman of Sunny Day Homes, a local business that offers energy efficiency contracting services; and, Melissa Soto of WAMY Community Action Agency, which provides free weatherization and heating improvements for qualified low-income residents.

Appalachian Voices, a regional environmental non-profit organization promoting electric utility “on-bill energy efficiency finance” programs, organized the event with the support of local residents. On-bill financing offers residents a way to pay for energy efficiency upgrades to their homes through their electric bills using the savings gained as a result of the energy improvements. During the event, Appalachian Voices presented a folder containing more than 1,000 signatures by High Country residents and letters from more than 20 local businesses and service agencies supporting an increase in energy efficiency investments through on-bill finance programs. According to Appalachian Voices, such programs provide the best option for addressing high energy costs related to poorly weatherized homes and old, inefficient appliances, and for alleviating the impact that energy costs have on low- to moderate-income residents.

The event closed with a call for local electric utilities, government agencies, service organizations, businesses and residents to identify and invest in solutions such as on-bill financing for lowering energy costs, alleviating poverty and creating new jobs in the High Country.

“Energy waste isn’t just an environmental problem, it’s also an economic problem,” said Rory McIlmoil, energy policy director for Appalachian Voices. “Here in the High Country we see a high incidence of poverty, lower-than-average family income, a housing stock that is mostly decades old and in need of efficiency improvements, and energy costs that for some folks accounts for nearly half of their income in the winter months. Together those issues are having a negative economic impact on the area, and this is a problem that we need to work together to address.”

To illustrate the need for home energy improvements and the benefits such improvements can have on local residents, Appalachian Voices hosted the High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest, which ended last February with three residents receiving free efficiency upgrades. Zach Dixon, a resident of Boone and the grand prize winner of the contest, described the benefits he’s received, saying, “Before winning the contest and getting my attic and floors insulated, I had so much heat escaping right through the attic, and I was paying as much as $200 a month on my electricity bills. Just having that insulation has made a major difference.”

An analysis of the three winning homes was conducted by ResiSpeak — a Cary, N.C.-based utility data collection and analysis service. Daniel Kauffman, general manager of ResiSpeak, summarized the results by saying, “Based on the few months of data since the retrofits, the homes appear to be consuming between ten and thirty percent less electricity than they were before. We will have a clearer picture of the energy savings due to the retrofits after this coming winter, and if current trends continue we should see significant savings.”

In addition to the services WAMY provides, much is already being done in the region to assist families who struggle with their energy bills in the winter or are in need of home energy improvements. For instance, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp.’s donation-based Operation RoundUp program provides bill payment assistance for residents who are unable to pay their energy bills in the winter. Community service organizations such as WeCAN help distribute these funds, while other organizations provide free firewood for winter heating needs. Many High Country residents have taken steps to lower their own energy costs. Despite all of these efforts, the fundamental lack of financial support remains largely unaddressed, leaving thousands of residents without the means for improving their home’s energy efficiency.

Speaking at the event, WAMY’s Executive Director Melissa Soto said “WAMY can weatherize homes for individuals that fall below 200% of [the U.S. poverty line]; however, there is always a long waiting list and never enough funding. There is also a huge gap between those that qualify for our services and those that can afford to make the improvements themselves. That’s why an on-bill financing program is so exciting — it gives those in the middle income brackets an opportunity to improve their quality of life.”

To which Mary Ruble of Boone, who is also a Blue Ridge Electric member, added, “I’m one of those that falls in the gap. I’ve been able to pay for some improvements myself, but not for everything that needs to be done. To me, on-bill financing is a win for all of us, and I’m really thankful that Blue Ridge is exploring ways they can help.”

“New solutions are required that provide comprehensive energy improvements while greatly increasing the level of investment in residential energy efficiency in our communities,” concluded McIlmoil. “We’re already seeing steps being taken to achieve this with the recent announcement by Blue Ridge Electric that they are considering developing an on-bill financing program for their members. We greatly appreciate this and are extremely encouraged by their leadership in tackling the issue.”

Appalachian Voices and local residents expressed hope that the event would spark a conversation throughout the High Country about how to develop more effective programs for addressing the problem of high energy costs. More information about on-bill financing and the Energy Savings for the High Country campaign can be found at

N.C. Legislature Addresses Environment

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Laura Marion

In North Carolina, where the state legislative session continues through much of summer, several bills with environmental ramifications have passed the General Assembly and, at press time, were awaiting either the governor’s signature or a committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions.

One bill, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, would provide broader immunity for companies charged with environmental violations, make it easier for the state to recoup attorney’s fees from environmental groups, and reduce the number of air quality monitors to the federal minimum. Another pending bill would allow property owners to build closer to streams, within the vegetated buffer that protects waterways from pollutants.

Despite a veto from Gov. McCrory, in June a bill became law that will render it illegal for employees to disclose activities happening in a long list of workplaces. Critics say the bill will have a chilling effect on whistleblowers, particularly at factory farms. And a bill to make resident petitions against zoning changes less effective was signed by the governor in July.

Star Parks Shine in the Appalachian Region

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Julia Lindsay

On July 17, Staunton River State Park in Scottsburg, Va., joined 24 other parks across the world in receiving an International Dark Sky Park designation. The International Dark Sky Association, which grants the designations, seeks to preserve areas of dark sky, a dwindling natural resource.

Eastern Tennessee’s Pickett State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area are also recent additions, along with North Carolina’s Mayland Community College Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park.

“The Appalachian region is a little bit darker than the [regions] around it, but pretty much anywhere east of the Great Plains has a lot of light,” says Dark Sky Places program manager, Dr. John Barentine. Most of the country’s population lives along the coastal states, concentrating immense light pollution. The rural nature of Appalachia dilutes light pollution, making it a prime location for stargazers.

Parks wishing to get on the list must follow rigorous standards set by the association, such as brightness and color guidelines for park lights. A color temperature standard below 3000 kelvin, Barentine says, ensures that parks use a warmer white color lighting instead of bluer lights.

Parks also have to include programming to share with the park’s visitors about the value of dark skies and the need to protect them. “Without the inspiration from night sky objects,” IDA’s website states, “most of the world’s history, art, culture … would not have been created.” Park coordinators usually combine educational talks with night-time stargazing programs.

Dark Sky Parks are popular among tourists, from camping families to amateur astronomers. Roanoke Times reports that more than 140 visitors came to Staunton River State Park’s star party last fall. “A star party,” Barentine explains, “is an event where you get a bunch of people to come together, usually amateur astronomers … the visitors go from telescope to telescope and talk to the operators and ask questions.”

“People in areas that are relatively light polluted can learn and can help solve this problem,” Barentine says, through actions as simple as putting a shield atop porch lights.

Learn more at

Fracking Investigations Stir Questions, Fines

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Eliza Laubach

A test well drilled in North Carolina by state scientists this spring has suggested there may be natural gas beneath the Walnut Tree community, a majority African-American neighborhood that shares groundwater with the largest coal ash pond in the state. Laboratory analysis, yet to be funded, will determine the nature of the deposit and guide speculation for hydraulic fracturing in the region.

Oil and gas test wells in eastern Kentucky have increased speculation into whether the Rogersville shale is profitable to frack. Considering the link between fracking and earthquakes, scientists with the Kentucky Geological Survey are establishing baseline data by burying sensitive seismic activity monitoring devices this summer.

In Morgantown, W. Va., atop the Marcellus shale, a university fracking site will provide a long-term study of the light, noise, air and water pollution these sites emit. One of the drilling sites is dangerously close to the city’s water intake on the Monongahela River, environmental groups say.

Range Resources faces an $8.9 million fine for contaminating groundwater with methane near a fracking rig in Pennsylvania. This record fine, being challenged by the company, comes after a two-year dispute over this well with the state.

N.C. Solar Snapshot

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

by Lauren Essick

A 20-megawatt solar farm under construction near Biscoe, N.C., covers 120 acres and is projected to power the equivalent of 3,500 homes when it is completed in November. The Montgomery County solar array, built by NC-based company O2 Energies EMC, will be grazed by sheep to reduce the need for mowers and synthetic pesticides.

At a July event at the construction site, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) spoke about the role of renewable energy development in making North Carolina economically competitive.

Groups Test Boundaries of N.C. Solar Laws

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Julia Lindsay

In a direct challenge to North Carolina laws governing electricity sales, clean energy group NC WARN financed a 5.2-kilowatt solar project on the roof of Greensboro’s Faith Community Church and plans to sell the energy to the church for about half of Duke Energy’s solar rate.

Duke’s attorney cautioned that the project is prohibited by law, but said the utility would connect the solar array to its grid “in order to not inconvenience” the church. The state is one of four that forbid entities other than regulated monopolies from selling electricity to consumers.

NC WARN asked the state utilities commission to allow their direct sales to help the church sidestep upfront costs. The nonprofit has also backed N.C. House Bill 245, dubbed the Energy Freedom Act, a bipartisan measure that would legalize third party sales, which the organization says stimulate competition and incentivize energy companies to expand their renewables programs.

Duke Energy’s Robert Caldwell told news outlet Utility Dive that Duke welcomes the competition provided that the third parties “pay us what it costs to stay connected to our grid.”

Energy Report News Bites

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

Air Pollution Standards Challenged in N.C.

by Eliza Laubach

The Federal District Court of Appeals rejected North Carolina’s attempt to bypass air pollution standards concerning fine particle pollution. The state waited too long to contest a standard set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 that limits increases in soot, largely emitted by coal-fired power plants or motor vehicles.

The Southeast’s First Utility-Scale Wind Farm Breaks Ground

by Eliza Laubach

When North Carolina’s first utility-scale wind farm begins operations on the coast by the end of 2016, it will be funded not by Duke Energy, but by Amazon.

The online retailer has two cloud-computing centers, in Virginia and Ohio, that will tap into Duke’s grid for power, but Amazon cannot sell the energy in North Carolina due to restrictions on third-party electricity sales.

Clean Water Act Clarified

by Cody Burchett

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers issued the final Clean Water Rule this past May, reducing the scope of waterways subject to the Clean Water Act and reinforcing exemptions that have legalized toxic water pollution since 2001. The majority of drainage ditches and artificial lakes used for livestock will no longer be regulated. Coal and agricultural industries retain permission to convert streams into waste impoundments. Eight states, including West Virginia and Kentucky, have criticized the new rule as overbearing and filed a federal lawsuit in June.

Contaminated Drinking Wells Near Ash Ponds

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Kimber Ray

North Carolina officials are requiring Duke Energy to test 446 wells located near the utility’s coal ash ponds, which contain the waste left over from burning coal. As of July, the state health department had analyzed results from 327 of these wells, and sent “do not drink” notices to 301 homeowners whose water contains dangerous levels of heavy metals and other contaminants associated with coal ash, such as lead, vanadium and hexavalent chromium.

Duke Energy, recently fined $102 million for nine violations of the Clean Water Act at its coal ash ponds, denies responsibility for the drinking water contamination. The state is conducting tests to determine the cause.

The utility currently plans to excavate ash from 20 of its 32 unlined coal ash ponds. The 12 that remain unaddressed account for 70 percent of the company’s statewide ash deposits, according to the Charlotte Observer. Duke is considering plans to close these ponds by leaving the waste in place and installing an earthen cap on top.