Duke evaulating coal ash cleanup prior to upgrade

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At Lee Steam Station

By Stan Welch

How soon Duke Energy will begin the physical upgrade of the Lee Steam Plant depends on the decision made by the South Carolina Public Service Commission, according to both Duke spokesperson Erin Culbert, as well as the lead attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, Frank Holleman.

Holleman, who once represented Anderson County in its legal battles with former administrator Joey Preston, argued before the SCPSC last week that the coal ash storage pits on the Lee site pose a major risk of pollution to the Saluda River and those downstream. During the plant’s decades as a coal fired generating facility, tons of coal ash were produced and stored on site, basically as a slurry.

The issue of whether the problem should be addressed is moot, with both sides clearly committed to a resolution of the problem. The main issue is where and how to address the problem. Duke Energy says it will produce a plan for the SCPSC to review by the end of the year.

A key factor in how soon the ash pits can be dealt with will depend on whether the SCPSC approves a dry on site storage plan. The use of an on-site lined storage would require a permitting process and construction. If the ash were transported to an off-site location, the process would likely begin sooner.

Holleman stated last week that on site storage is a possibility, if enough distance can be obtained from the river itself, and if existing streams on the site can be taken into consideration.

The current upgrade plan for the plant calls for the retiring and replacement of the two oldest coal fired generators by April of 2015, and the conversion of the third and newer unit to natural gas. The three natural gas fired units will be capable of producing 750 kilowatts of power; and will be much cleaner and greener in terms of the effects on the environment.

The plan involves the installation of approximately $100 million in pollution control equipment, according to information presented by Duke Energy. The project is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $600 million and create as many as five hundred construction jobs at the peak of construction.