Power Restored in Chapel Hill

Updated at 10:00pm – Duke Energy is reporting that power in Chapel Hill has been restored.

Power outages hit parts of Chapel Hill on Wednesday afternoon.

According to the Duke Energy Outage Map, there were more than 1,000 customers affected.

According to Duke Energy, over 600 customers were without power in the portion of Chapel Hill near Fordham Blvd, Franklin St, and Estes Dr.  The outages impacted some traffic signals in the community as well.

Church St north of Franklin St in downtown Chapel Hill was also impacted.  This outage was caused by fallen trees and limbs in the area.

The Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce and University Place both reported outages.  Silverspot Cinema at University Place closed for the day after the expected power restoration was pushed until late Wednesday night.

The National Weather Service reported a string of strong thunderstorms in the Triangle Wednesday afternoon.


Duke Energy Hides Key Info in Fracking Gas Power Plant Fight


Duke Energy is hiding large blocks of information about its plans to build a billion-dollar power plant in Asheville.

NC WARN is pressing state regulators to conduct an open review – not the fast-track rubber stamp Duke wants.

Our technical experts argue the plant isn’t needed – due to a glut of regional generation.

… and that it would speed global warming due to methane leakage throughout the natural gas industry,

… and that it could cause soaring rates for all Duke Energy customers due to the price volatility of fracking gas.

As a monopoly with guaranteed profits, Duke Energy is not allowed to hide critical information about building power plants.

With all that’s at stake for the climate crisis, our economy, and for our democratic process … it would be tragic for Duke Energy to build this fracking-gas plant without answering concerns raised by prominent experts.

The actions of legislators and regulators to protect Duke Energy in this case are exactly why NC WARN has a Complaint pending with Attorney General Roy Cooper – calling for him to alter Duke’s corporate charter … to restrict its influence and force Duke Energy to help slow global warming – instead of making it worse.


Jim Warren

Executive Director



Marcus Paige Reads to Chapel Hill Third Graders

Students at Rashkis Elementary School gathered on Wednesday to hear from special guests encouraging them to read.

About 100 eager third graders filed into the library at Rashkis for a special guest reading to cheer on the students during the read-a-thon going on at the school.

Marcus Paige and David Fountain with students. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Marcus Paige and David Fountain with students. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Duke Energy North Carolina president David Fountain was joined by senior Tar Heel basketball player Marcus Paige to read to the students. Fountain and Paige read ‘Salt in His Shoes’ about the struggles of a young man who turned out to be legendary Tar Heel basketball player Michael Jordan.

Paige spoke to the third graders about the importance of reading.

“My mom is an English teacher in high school,” Paige told the students. “So she always made me read, ever since I was you guys’ age.”

He told the students that he knew the teachers were asking the students to read as part of the read-a-thon, but added he hoped they would learn to enjoy reading.

“Reading is basically the foundation of your entire education,” Paige told the eager listeners. “When you get to college, you read a lot of books and a lot of articles and a lot of journals. And if you enjoy it, it makes it a lot easier and it makes you able to get more information from what you read.”

The event was part of Duke Energy Reading Days to promote childhood literacy. Duke’s North Carolina president David Fountain said the utility felt this was an important area to emphasize.

“Duke Energy has long been a supporter of education in North Carolina,” Fountain said. “And we feel like it’s particularly important for young students to be able to have the skills to succeed later in life.

“And that’s why we focused on early reading as an area that we wanted to support.”


Rameses with students. Photo via Blake Hodge.

While the students were certainly happy to see Paige, the Tar Heel basketball star, there was no doubt he finished second as the most popular person to the third graders behind UNC mascot Rameses.


Power Restored in Orange and Durham Counties

Power has been restored to portions of Orange and Durham Counties that were without power earlier Wednesday.

The Duke Energy power outage map is showing all of the reported outages have been restored.

At the peak, more than 8,000 customers were suffering outages in Orange and Durham Counties.

The initial outage was reported around 10 o’clock Monday morning and power was restored before one o’clock in the afternoon.

Five schools in the Orange County School system – Central Elementary, Hillsborough Elementary, Cameron Park Elementary, Stanford Middle and Orange High School – were temporarily without power.

Duke Energy officials say a large transmission line carrying power to three substations was having “issues” causing the outages.



The climate crisis won’t wait for world leaders

The Paris climate talks led to what could be a step toward stabilizing the global climate crisis – if real action follows.

Now, what’s needed is a more vocal U.S. public to offset the clout of corporations holding on to the fossil fueled past.

North Carolina is crucial – as home to the nation’s largest polluting utility, Duke Energy.

NC WARN and allies are calling for Attorney General Roy Cooper to assert his constitutional authority – to require that Duke executives help slow global warming.   Right now, Duke Energy is making it worse by expanding dirty fuels while blocking solar competition.

Cooper has stood up to Duke Energy in the past, and we need his leadership now.

Listen to Jim Warren’s Commentary

Time is short and climate change could become abrupt.  Scientists now warn that sea level could rise 10 feet within 50 years unless we begin cutting global pollution immediately.

Solar power is now cheaper than coal, nuclear and gas – when all costs are counted.  But Duke Energy is holding back renewables – while pushing toward a fracking gas future that’s increasing climate change due to methane leakage.

So the climate struggle is about more than saving energy at home.  We need more people in the game – asserting public control over corporate polluters and government officials.

Jim Warren
Executive Director


Duke Energy: Be a Responsible North Carolina Citizen

Duke Energy, the nation’s largest provider of electricity, is making news again.  But, it’s not exactly what anyone would call a public relations dream scenario.

Walt Mack

Walt Mack

In May, the Charlotte-based utility pleaded guilty to nine violations of the Federal Clean Water Act.  The firm admitted illegally discharging coal ash pollution from five of its North Carolina power plants.

Jeff Danner explains the Duke Energy coal ash spill

As a result, it paid $102 million in fines and restitution.

Now, Duke Energy is charging NC Warn, a non-profit environmental group, with illegally delivering solar power to a church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  And North Carolina is one of only five states that gives utilities the exclusive rights to selling solar electricity direct to consumers.

Despite the minuscule amounts of electricity involved, Duke has pushed ahead anyway, invoking state law that prohibits third party sales of solar electricity.

Duke may feel its profits are being eroded by private solar producers, since North Carolina ranks second (only behind in California), in the amount of solar electricity generated by home-owners, farmers, and businesses.

Listen to Walt Mack’s Commentary

But, that’s less than one percent of the solar electricity produced in the state.

Small potatoes for the energy giant.

Also, Duke Energy’s third quarter earnings took a big hit as a result of weak performance in the international business, particularly with the hydroelectric plants in Brazil and Central America.

Perhaps, Duke Energy would be better served shifting its attention to the home front, right here in North Carolina, and concentrate on being an environmentally responsible corporate citizen.

This would be nice.

Walt Mack


Coal Ash, How Dry is Dry?

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This week’s column assumes that the reader is familiar with the fact that Duke Energy has been tasked with closing or upgrading its coal ash lagoons across the state of North Carolina following a massive coal ash spill into the Dan River near to Eden, NC. If you are not familiar with the background, I recommend you read my previous column, A Tale of Two Spills, before proceeding.

When you burn coal to make electricity, just like burning wood in a fireplace, some ash is left behind. Coal ash is hazardous since it contains a number of toxic, heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and mercury. As a result, human beings and other animals are well advised to not ingest coal ash or, even more importantly, breathe it into their lungs. Since the greatest health risk from coal ash arises from breathing it in, coal companies immerse the ash in water in on-site lagoons to keep coal ash dust out of the air.

While it is possible to recycle coal ash into concrete and several other building products, it is not an economically attractive alternative. Therefore, electric power companies all across the country have been accumulating a staggering amount of coal ash – estimates range in the trillions of tons – over the past half a century or so. Duke Energy has 108 million tons of coal ash stored in 32 lagoons across North Carolina. Since coal-fired power plants are nearly always next to rivers and lakes, so are these lagoons. In an attempt to prevent more incidents like the Dan River spill, Duke Energy has been ordered to develop a plan to remove the coal ash from the lagoons and store it “dry” in lined landfills far from rivers or lakes. Every time I read that, I am struck with the question of, “What do they mean by dry?” Let me explain why that is an important question starting with a thought experiment which will help to outline the key issues.

Let’s say that you are at the beach and have a bucket of sand with a layer of water above it and I assigned you the task of drying the sand in the most time and energy efficient manner possible. First, you should decant off the water above the sand. That’s easy to do and not energy intensive. Next you could get more water out of the sand by squeezing it. For example, if you had another bucket of the same size, you could press down on the wet sand and this would coax out some additional water that you could then decant off. At this point, you would be left with a wet cake of sand of which water would constitute approximately 25% of the total weight.

In order to remove the rest of the water you would need to evaporate it. Therefore, you will need to apply heat, a substantial amount, and you will need to mix the sand during the process. If you do not mix the sand, the water in the interior of the cake would take a very long time to diffuse the surface of the cake were it can evaporate and escape. Your possible heat sources are the sun, provided it is not cloudy or night time, or you could build a fire. As you have likely inferred, the point of this thought exercise is to illustrate that removing water trapped within cake of small particles is not a simple task.

A lagoon of coal ash shares has quite a bit in common with a bucket of wet sand. At the bottom of the lagoon is a sludge of wet coal ash particles beneath layer of water. The water can be decanted off without difficulty. Just as was the case with the sand, more water could be removed from the coal ash sludge by squeezing it. There are many known technologies that could be used such as a belt press. However, running tens of millions of tons of wet coal ash cake through a belt press would take a very, very long time. So perhaps Duke Energy would choose to skip this step.

I was unable to find physical property data for coal ash, so I need to make an assumption before proceeding. Based on similar materials, I estimate that pressing coal ash sludge would create a wet cake containing approximately 20% water.  Therefore, the 108 million tons of coal ash in Duke Energy’s lagoons would correspond to 135 million tons of wet cake containing 27 million tons of water.

So this brings us to my question. Is this wet cake of coal ash what Duke Energy is describing as dry? To my engineering mindset, the answer should be “no.” However, I suspect this is what Duke Energy is describing as dry coal ash and, despite my quibbles with word usage, I hope this what they mean. There are two important reasons for this. The first is energy consumption. Evaporating 27 million tons of water to truly dry the coal ash would require 53,000,000,000,000 BTUs of energy. To give you an idea of how much that is, it is equal to the energy required to provide electricity to 1.4 million average American households for a year. The second problem is dust. If Duke Energy thoroughly dried the ash, especially since you have to mix it to get it to dry, they would generate a lot of dust. The best way to control the resulting dust would be to spray it with water, which would be an absolutely ridiculous thing to do after just drying it. So what are they really doing?

I have been trying to figure this out for a while. Duke Energy has a section on its website about its coal ash clean up program complete with several videos. However, the question of what constitutes dry coal ash is not addressed. There is some footage of a bulldozer scooping up some coal ash from a lagoon that has no standing water. No dust is begin generated by the bulldozer with suggests that the operator is scooping up wet cake rather than dry ash, which suggests that my theory is correct. If so, then Duke Energy is being prudent in not expending the energy necessary to dry the ash and safety conscious in not generating a risk of dust exposure. However, if this is true, they are shying away from discussing the science underlying this effort. I’m not sure why that is but, not to worry, Common Science® is not similarly shy.

Jeff Danner spoke with Aaron Keck on WCHL Monday.


Have a comment or question? Use the interface below or send me an email to jbdanner66@gmail.com. Think that this column includes important points that others should consider? Share a link to this column on Facebook or Twitter. Want more Common Science? Follow me on Twitter on @Commonscience.


Chatham County Officials Agree to Deal with Duke Energy on Coal Ash

Chatham County officials have reached an agreement with Duke Energy on parameters of storing coal ash at a clay mine in the county.

A deal was struck between the county and the energy giant after weeks of negotiations, according to officials.

Chatham County Manager Charlie Horne says the county’s focus was getting the best arrangement it could with Duke.

“Given that, no matter what we do, we’re likely going to get coal ash,” he says, “what is the best deal, if you will, we can get from Duke Energy to do other things potentially in Chatham County.”

Duke Spokesperson Jeff Brooks says the company is happy both sides were able to reach an accord.

“We’re very pleased to have reached an agreement with local leaders that will provide positive benefits, we believe, to the people of Chatham County,” he says. “Duke Energy is very committed to being responsible and transparent as we move forward with our work at the Birckhaven mine and ensuring that the work that we do is done safely and with a focus on protecting the environment.”

Horne says the agreement puts forward the parameters of the coal ash that can be moved to Chatham County.

“The agreement provides for a limit of 12 million tons of coal ash disposal at the Brickhaven site in Moncure,” he says. “In return for that, we will get $1.50 per ton for that disposal up to 12 million tons.”

Lee County officials agreed to a similar deal with Duke Energy earlier this year to store coal ash.

It came to this stage of seeming inevitability for the county after the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources granted Duke the necessary permits to dispose of coal ash in the pits.

Brooks says the state is the ultimate rule maker in this scenario, but Duke would prefer to operate with cooperation of local government.

“Certainly the state law directs how we operate and how we move forward with this project, but we recognize that there’s an impact to the local community,” he says. “We recognize that, just from an operational standpoint, this will be something ongoing for several years in Chatham County.

“And we wanted to be fair to the local community. We wanted to find a solution that could provide positive benefits to the people of Chatham County.”

The ash will be stored dry, rather than in the lagoons it is currently stored in across the Tar Heel state.

The pits will be lined before the ash is placed into the pit and another layer of lining will be placed over the coal ash once it is in place, according to Duke.

Horne says the county is pleased no additional ash will be brought to the site of the Cape Fear Plant.

“The Cape Fear site, which was the old power plant, Duke Energy also agreed that there will be no coal ash stored there other than what’s already on the site,” he says. “We think that’s a plus.”

As part of the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, Duke has to move coal ash from lagoons at four high-risk sites across North Carolina by 2019. Duke must move all of the coal ash from the 10 remaining sites by 2029.

Brooks says progress has been preliminary up to this point.

“We’re actually finalizing a lot of those plans,” he says. “We’ve announced some of them, obviously. We’re beginning the process of siting land fills at some of our plants that will be used for storing ash.

“We’ve begun moving ash from our Riverbend station to a location in Georgia that is accepting that material. And I think that you’re going to see over the next few months a lot of activity, a lot of new announcements on plans and other work that’s being done.”

Brooks says the nation’s largest electric utility is focused on meeting the deadlines laid out by the state.

“We believe we can meet the timelines. We are committed to complying with the law,” he says. “It’s going to be a herculean task, and it’s going to take a lot of work from many dedicated teams that are working throughout the company.

“But right now our focus is on meeting the requirements of the law and doing that in a responsible way.”

Before any coal ash can be moved to the pits in Chatham and Lee Counties, Duke Energy still needs approval from the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Brooks says that Duke is hopeful that late this summer or early this fall it will be able to begin work at the site in Chatham County.

County officials say the $18 million Duke will be providing the county in exchange for the storage will be used to monitor the environmental risks around the site. Commissioners have also asked for baseline testing to be done of water sources around the pits.


Google, Apple, Facebook Send Letter to NC Legislators

Google, Apple and Facebook sent a letter to North Carolina legislators urging them not to change the state’s renewable energy laws.  State representatives are considering a bill that green energy advocates say would negatively impact the renewable energy sector.

The tech giants’ letter urges legislators not to adopt House Bill 332. The proposed legislation would make significant changes to the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS).

The REPS requires utility companies to buy a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources, such as solar or wind power. The REPS also requires utilities to increase the percentage of clean energy they buy over time. Allison Eckley of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) says the REPS has been key for the growth of green energy companies in North Carolina, and to keeping rates down for consumers.

“We’ve already seen the downward pressure on electric bills that these policies have had,” Eckley said.

House Bill 332 wouldn’t get rid of the REPS, but it would freeze the REPS requirement at its current 6 percent. Google, Apple and Facebook expressed concern in last week’s letter to legislators that limiting the REPS would hold back the growth of North Carolina’s renewable energy sector. The three companies employ 200 people in North Carolina and have invested $2.7 billion in the state. More than half of their investments are in the renewable energy sector, according to a statement from NCSEA.

“They’ve been following the policy developments here because they consider clean energy as a supplier to that power as a priority. And that’s part of the reason, as they say in the letter, that they selected North Carolina instead of other states in the Southeast that also have cheaper electricity,” Eckley said.

House Bill 332 is co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Hager, a former Duke Energy employee. He and other proponents of House Bill 332 say the REPS unfairly support the renewable energy industry over other sectors. Becki Gray, from the Raleigh-based conservative think-tank, the John Locke Foundation, agrees.

“This mandate, these special favors that are granted to the solar industry at the expense of taxpayers is not good policy. It doesn’t lead to good economic growth,” Gray said.

Gray argues the opposite of Google, Facebook and Apple when it comes to the REPS’ downward pressure on rates.

“The studies that we’ve seen show that that is not true, that the costs increase with the requirement that a certain percentage of your energy has to come from more expensive sources,” she said.

House Bill 332 is being debated in the Senate. For now, the one thing both sides can agree on is the need for more research on the REPS’ economic impact.


Duke Energy Hopes To Send Coal Ash To Chatham And Lee Counties

Coal ash could be coming to Chatham and Lee Counties, as Duke Energy looks to use old clay mines for disposal.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources received a pair of applications last week from Green Meadow LLC, a company seeking permission to move coal ash stored at power facilities to fill in open-pit clay mines.

One mine is in Chatham County near Moncure, the other is in Lee County near Sanford.

The permits would allow Duke Energy to relocate coal ash from power plants in Mount Holly and Wilmington and use it to fill the open pits after installing liners to prevent groundwater contamination.

Green Meadow LLC hopes to begin work on the structural fill projects at both mine sites in early 2015.

However, a public hearing must be held first, and the permits must be reviewed by the Division of Waste Management before work can begin.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency will likely roll out new federal guidelines for coal ash disposal in December, which could have an impact on the application.

Ultimately, Duke Energy hopes to relocate 3 million tons of coal ash to Lee and Chatham counties.