LUMBERTON — Duke Energy’s decision concerning coal ash from the former Weatherspoon generating station in Lumberton is getting high marks from people advocating for the protection of water quality and human health.
The power company recently announced it will recycle the ash rather than transport it to another site for disposal. Duke Energy originally planned to take the ash to a lined landfill it was going to build in Lee County.
“I’m really pleased and happy about this,” Christine Ellis, of the South Carolina-based Winyah-Rivers Foundation, said Thursday. “This is the best of all possible worlds.”
The state previously mandated that all coal ash remaining on the Weatherspoon site be excavated and removed from the property by the ash basin closure date of 2028. Now, instead of excavating and transporting the coal ash to a disposal site in a different community, Duke will excavate and recycle all 2.5 million tons of ash currently stored at Weatherspoon into cement products, said Dawn Santoianni, a Duke Energy spokesperson.
“The ash will be sent to cement kilns in Holly Hill and Harleyville, S.C.,” she said. “This is an update to previous plans, which were to use the Weatherspoon ash in structural fills.”
The ash will be used for a variety of construction purposes, including the construction of bridges and buildings, Santoianni said.
Coal ash is the residue remaining after coal is burned to generate electricity. It contains numerous elements, including mercury, cadmium and arsenic, hazardous to the health of humans and to the environment.
Santoianni said the Weatherspoon recycling project and Duke’s work to recycle coal ash at other facilities are the latest results of the company’s efforts to find innovative and economical uses for ash that benefit Duke customers, the environment and the state’s economy.
“Recycling coal ash makes sense for many reasons,” she said. “Customers and the environment benefit by reducing the need for additional disposal locations, and recycling can lower costs when compared to relocating ash to a new disposal facility.”
The Rev. Mac Legerton, director of the Center for Community Action in Lumberton, praised Duke Energy’s decision.
“We don’t want them dumping coal ash from here into other communities,” Legerton said. “… No community should have the burden of this kind of waste. We don’t do it with human waste so why should it be done with material waste of this kind?”
He and other community members worked closely with Duke Energy to persuade them to remove all of the “dangerous” coal ash stored on the Weatherspoon property rather than capping it and leaving it along the Lumber River and in adjacent Jacob’s Swamp, Legerton said.
“Duke Energy officials are going to do that although it wasn’t in their regular plans,” Legerton said. “We thank them for working closely with us to make this happen.”
Excavation of coal ash from the Weatherspoon basin will begin by the middle of this month, Santoianni said.
The former Weatherspoon plant was shut down in 2011. It’s three coal-fired generators began running in 1949.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.