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State Investigating Whether Duke Energy Leaked Contaminated Water At Chatham Co. Plant

The Duke Energy coal ash facility fallout continues—this time at a Chatham County plant located about 25 miles south of Chapel Hill. State environmental regulators are now investigating whether the utility has been pumping contaminated wastewater into the Cape Fear River.

Jamie Kritzer, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said that state inspectors observed on March 11 that Duke Energy workers had possibly pumped water from two coal ash ponds located at the Cape Fear Plant in Moncure, which was closed in 2012.

The pumps were attached to hoses that carried water from the coal ash ponds into an internal canal.

The canal is supposed to discharge only treated wastewater from the coal ash ponds.

The concern is whether contaminated water was also released into the canal, which flows into an unnamed tributary that feeds the Cape Fear River, a drinking water source for several cities. Coal ash contains toxic chemicals such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

**View Waterkeeper Alliance’s aerial photo gallery of the pumps here**

“The utility told us that they were conducting routine maintenance,” Kritzer said. “Certainly some routine maintenance is allowed under their wastewater discharge permit, but discharge of untreated wastewater could be a violation of that permit. That is what we are looking into right now.”

Kritzer said DENR discovered the potentially illegal pumping during a planned investigation of the plant.

This was part of a state-wide effort by DENR to conduct detailed inspections of all 14 Duke Energy facilities with coal ash impoundments.

The investigation was precipitated by the February coal ash spill at a Duke Energy plant in Eden during which at least 30,000 tons of pollutant were released into the Dan River.

Kritzer said DENR officials are expected to make a decision later this week about whether Duke Energy violated the discharge permit at the Cape Fear Plant.

“There is the potential we could issue notices of violation. Those could carry with them fines and penalties that could be fairly stiff,” Kritzer said.

The Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental group, flew a plane over Duke Energy’s Cape Fear River plant on March 10 and photographed the two pumps drawing water from the two coal ash ponds. Those photos were released to the media.

DENR maintains that the state agency’s inspection discovery was independent of Waterkeeper Alliance’s investigation.


On Tuesday, a federal grand jury convened as part of a widening criminal investigation triggered by the coal ash spill in Eden, the Associated Press reported. The jury will examine whether state regulators, DENR officials included, helped shield Duke Energy regarding its negligence.

Poll: Voters Think Duke Energy Should Pay For Coal Ash Clean-Up, Not Customers

A new poll finds that almost 80 percent of North Carolinians think Duke Energy alone should pay for the clean-up efforts from the recent coal ash spill on the Dan River. Earlier this month, the nation’s largest utility decided that its customers would bear the burden through increased rates.

Tom Jensen, of the left-leaning Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, says the numbers also show bipartisan agreement that Duke Energy should pay for the clean-up.

“We find that 81 percent of Independents, 79 percent of Republicans, and 79 percent of Democrats alike think that it isn’t something that should be passed on to customers. It isn’t something that should be passed on to taxpayers,” Jensen says. “They all feel with regard to no party divide at all that it should be Duke Energy’s responsibility to clean this up.”

On February 2, an old stormwater pipe collapsed at Duke Energy’s plant in Eden on the Dan River. It has been estimated that the spill dumped at least 30,000 tons of pollutant into the river, coating approximately 70 miles. Coal ash contains toxic contaminants such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

Governor Pat McCrory, who worked for Duke Energy for more than 30 years, told reporters Monday that his main concern is cleaning up the spill and then finding a long-term solution for the more than 30 coal ash ponds located in North Carolina.

When it comes to how the Republican leader has handled the spill, the poll found a greater partisan divide. Jensen says Republicans think McCrory has done an “all right job,” whereas Democrats think he has done a poor job.

Overall, only 30 percent of voters give him good marks for how he has responded to the spill compared to 44 percent who disapprove. That is worse than his overall approval numbers, Jensen explains. Forty-seven percent of voters disapprove of the job McCrory is doing, compared to forty percent of who voters approve.

“And I definitely think that what your are seeing there with the coal ash numbers being worse than his overall numbers is some feeling that maybe he is not being tough with Duke Energy. I certainly think that a part of that could be his former employment there.”

Jensen says that not surprisingly, the coal ash spill has had a negative impact on Duke Energy’s image.

“Only 26 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of the company [compared to] 52 percent with an unfavorable opinion,” he says.

To see the full results of the poll, which was conducted between March 6-9, click here.

Schools Closings and Power Outages

Due to hazardous travel conditions (downed trees and power lines) and wide spread power outages that remain, two school districts remain closed Monday:

Orange County Schools (optional teacher work day)

Alamance Burlington Schools


Duke Energy and Piedmont Electric continue to work to restore power to the area. To see the outage make for Duke Energy, click here; for Piedmont Electric, click here.

Lessons Learned From Dan River Coal Ash Spill

As we continue to follow the repercussions from the Dan River coal ash spill, one of the largest in U.S. history, the more than 80,000 OWASA users in our area can be thankful that the water they drink is not supplied by the Dan River or any of its estuaries.

Alan Rimer, Chair of the OWASA Board of Directors, explained that the non-profit agency serving Chapel Hill and Carrboro draws water from three local supplies: the Cane Creek Reservoir, University Lake and the Quarry Reservoir west of Carrboro.

“We are also fortunate in that we do not have any coal ash storage ponds in our watershed. The only power plant we have is the one on UNC’s campus, which handles their ash, or what ash they used to have, in a totally different manner. It was shipped off-site. So, we are protected all the way around,” Rimer said.

The spill happened on February 2 at a former Duke Energy plant in Eden, North Carolina, when millions of gallons of coal ash and waste water were leaked.

On Tuesday, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources [DENR] alerted Duke Energy that it was considering changes to its waste water permits for coal ash ponds.

Rimer said that though the coal ash spill does not impact Orange County, there are still lessons to be learned.

In January, thousands of gallons of chemicals contaminated the water supply in Charleston, West Virginia.

Both of these situations, Rimer explained, show the necessity of maintaining properly-working storage outside of chemical tanks in the case of spills.

“If a municipality does not require chemicals that are stored, which could somehow how get into the watershed are properly protected, then you have got a real problem,” he said.

Chemical storage facilities in Orange County comply with federally-mandated regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, which is enforced by DENR.

“While we do not have a coal ash pile, we do have chemicals that are not dissimilar in their potential to impact our watershed. We look after those very carefully in the county.”

In a WCHL commentary in January, Rimer explained that through the cooperation of local governments, the density and impact of development in our local watersheds are limited by some of the most stringent watershed zoning, streamside buffer requirements, and impervious surface limits in the state. These standards, he said, help to reduce the likelihood of contaminants from reaching area reservoirs.

Plan For Power Outages As Ice Storm Approaches

CHAPEL HILL- With up to a half inch of ice in the forecast, power outages are a real possibility in the next 24 hours. Duke Energy’s Jennifer Jabon says additional crews are on standby to respond.

“Right now, here in the Carolinas we have approximately 3,400 field workers, and some of those are crews that have come in from other regions,” says Jabon.

The storm bearing down on the Triangle is expected to dump snow, sleet and freezing rain. Jabon warns that falling tree limbs and ice accumulation could bring down power lines.

“Our focus is always on the safety of the customers, so definitely be aware if there’s any downed power lines,” says Jabon. “Don’t touch them, stay away from them, and we ask that you immediately report any downed power lines you see.”

With snow expected to continue through Thursday afternoon, officials say you shouldn’t expect power to be restored right away.

If the power goes out and you’re using a generator to stay warm, remember to operate it outside and keep it away from vents or doors that could draw in carbon monoxide.

If you lose power and can’t stay warm, Orange County Emergency Services will operate a shelter at Smith Middle School at 9201 Seawell School Road in Chapel Hill.

Call 1-800-POWER-ON to report outages, or, if you’re a Duke Energy Progress customer call 1-800- 419-6356.

Duke Energy Merger: Two Utilities, One Name

CHARLOTTE – The merger between Duke Energy and Progress Energy has combined two utilities under one name, but the operations of the company remain as two units.

Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks says, while it’s a possibility that one day the company will merge the entire function of the two utilities into one, the main focus now is on bringing the internal operations together.

“We have Duke Energy Carolinas in the western half of the state and then Duke Energy Progress—which is the former Progress Energy footprint—that serves customers in the eastern half of the state and Asheville,” Brooks says.

Duke Energy now serves 3.2 million customers in 83 of the state’s 100 counties and is the nation’s largest utility company.

Brooks says it helps to remember that if you were a customer of Duke Energy before the merger, you’re still under the Duke Energy utility; if you were a Progress Energy customer, you are now under the Duke Energy Progress utility.

He says a major positive to the merger is the distribution of electricity.

“We, for example, now jointly dispatch our generation fleet—so in other words, our power plants,” Brooks says. “Even though they belong to the two separate utilities, we think of them as one fleet in the way that we dispatch them day-to-day to support customer needs.”

Brooks says the company has recognized the growing pains. He says one of the biggest problem areas is in the reporting of power outages.

“Outage reporting has been one area where we’ve seen some instances of customers getting confused as to which system they should use,” Brooks says. “But the main thing that helps is if they go to, for the customer it will ask them where are you located? So it will ask them to enter their service address, or they can select which area they’re in, and once they do that, it can remember where they were when they come back to the sites.”

Duke Energy provides customer service for both utilities for questions about billing and payments, moving service, outages, and other topics.

Duke Energy Carolinas Customer Service

Duke Energy Progress Customer Service

Driver Who Caused Blackout Was Almost Home

CHAPEL HILL – The driver who knocked out two power poles causing power outages for 350 Orange County residents was less than half a mile from his home, according to Chapel Hill Police.

Public Information Lt. Josh Mecimore says 23-year-old Franklin Dalina Goncalves was charged with Driving While Impaired after losing control of his vehicle just three tenths of a mile from his residence.

“The estimated damage to the car was $10,000,” Lt. Mecimore says. “It was a 2004 Acura, so that’s probably a good bit of the value of the car. They estimated the damage to Duke Power’s equipment at $10,000, too.”

Goncalves’ address is listed as 1250 Ephesus Church Road which is The Park at Chapel Hill Apartment community. The police report shows that he took a turn too fast; his vehicle jumped the curb and lost traction.

“It’s possible that there may have been an additional citation related to the driving: speeding or careless and reckless or something like that,” Lt. Mecimore says. “But as far as the charges that he was taken before the magistrate on, it was just the DWI.”

Two power poles were taken out by the incident, but Lt. Mecimore says the evidence didn’t point to Goncalves hitting both of them.

“I think the second was brought down by the weight…or maybe the stress from the wires coming down from that pole,” Lt. Mecimore says. “So, it doesn’t look like it actually struck both.”

Goncalves was released on a written promise to appear in court by the Orange County magistrate. His court date is set for January 6 in Hillsborough.

For more on the outage, click here.

Duke Energy Progress Merger Still Not Complete Online

CHARLOTTE – The Duke Energy Progress merger is at the heart of power outage confusion for Orange County customers Sunday.

Though all customers are now under one company name, remnants of the separate entities are lingering.

After the initial blast of outages caused by the 4:00 a.m. car accident that took out two power poles Sunday, approximately 350 customers remained without power. The outage lasted for more than 12 hours, and power was fully restored at 8:20 p.m.

If you logged on to Duke-Energy to check the outage and clicked the region of North Carolina that included OrangeCounty—the former Progress Energy region which is highlighted in green—you wouldn’t see any outages being reported. However, if you clicked the Duke Energy region (highlighted in blue), you would have seen the outages reported for Orange County.

A Duke Energy media spokesperson says you will have to continue to use the website that way until the company completes the merge of its back end functions.

The Duke-Progress merger was announced in 2011 and was completed July 2, 2012. Duke Energy Progress is now the nation’s largest regulated utility and serves approximately seven million customers in six states.

Duke Energy Outage Map

Progress Energy Outage Map

AM Accident KOs Telephone Pole, Hundreds Lose Power

Photo courtesy of Chapel Hill Public Library director Susan Brown.

UPDATE: At around 11:00 a.m. Sunday, Duke Energy’s website reported (incorrectly) that the power outage was over. Chapel Hill Police, however, issued this statement: ”Pike Electric mentioned that residents and businesses in the affected area…will be without power up until 9 PM.  They will have to shut down all power for a one hour time span in order to get everything back up and running.  It may be as late as midnight before power is restored to the entire affected area.”

UPDATE: Power was restored shortly before noon to (at least some) homes in the Colony Lake area, near the Sage/Fordham intersection.

UPDATE: Shortly after noon, a Duke Energy spokesperson told WCHL that power had been restored to many Duke customers, but about 350 were still affected. (Corroborating the earlier report from Chapel Hill Police, she said those customers were likely to remain without power until at least early evening.)

CHAPEL HILL – An early-morning single-car accident on Sunday brought down a telephone pole near the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Legion Road, knocking out power to hundreds of Chapel Hillians.

The accident occurred shortly after 4:00 a.m. According to a statement from Chapel Hill Police, the driver actually ran into several telephone poles before coming to a stop.

122913 power outage pic 1

122913 power outage pic 2

All photos courtesy of Susan Brown.

Duke Energy initially reported more than 2,000 customers were without power. Homes in Briarcliff, Ridgefield, Colony Lake and other nearby neighborhoods remained without power for hours, as crews worked to restore service. Several stoplights were out along 15/501 between Elliott Road and Sage Road; Chapel Hill Police set up emergency signage at those intersections.

The driver of the vehicle – still not identified by CHPD – was not injured in the crash, but was arrested for driving while impaired. It’s not clear whether the accident was related in any way to Sunday morning’s heavy rain.

UPDATE: Crews are installing a new pole. Photo below, also courtesy Susan Brown:

122913 power outage pic 3

Shearon Harris Plant Finds Second Flaw This Year

NEW HILL – Duke Energy’s nuclear power plant just south of the Triangle has found its second flaw this year.

WRAL reports that the Shearon Harris plant was shut down Nov. 9 for refueling during which time an ultrasonic inspection found a microscopic crack in a nozzle.

A Duke Energy representative said the public is in no danger due to the flaw.

Shearon Harris is located 25 miles southeast of Chapel Hill.