October 22, 2020

Duke Energy’s coal ash recycling process underway at Buck Steam Station in Rowan County

The process for recycling coal ash from the former Buck Steam station is underway now in Rowan County.

In January, Duke Energy agreed to excavate all of its unlined coal ash basins in North Carolina as part of an agreement it announced in 2016 with environmental activists and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

“This important step forward provides certainty for neighbors about our closure plans and allows us to recycle more coal ash to benefit our customers and North Carolina’s economy,” said David Fountain, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president said at the time.

In 2018 the Buck Steam plant was taken down, and now a new recycling facility is in place.

“It takes it out of the environment permanently," said Bill Norton of Duke Energy, who explained what happens to the coal ash once it’s removed from the three basins in Rowan County.

“The ash is excavated out of the basin, it’s stored in the facility to dry out. Once it enters the star reactor, it’s called, it no longer sees the light of day at that point. Its processed, comes over to the storage dome and goes into pneumatically sealed trucks.”

Those trucks leave the facility on Duke’s private road, Buck Station Road. That keeps the trucks out of the Dukeville neighborhood.

Once the coal ash is delivered, it goes into concrete to make it stronger. The Cooper River bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, is an example of a structure built with concrete containing coal ash.

“That is a technological marvel, one of the longest cable bridge spans in the world.”

Proceeds from coal ash recycling will be used to offset customer costs associated with the coal ash removal, according to Norton. The project in Rowan County has 15 full-time workers and about 30 truck drivers.

“It takes a by product and turns it into a benefit," Norton said. "Everyone is happy with this…environmental groups are happy, state regulators are happy and it’s good for our customers and the environment.”

Duke Energy said the work to move coal ash to lined landfills and, in other cases, to recycle the material, will stretch until 2035, pending speedy review and approval of state permits.

The company said it would also take steps to better protect groundwater at some of its coal ash basins.

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