BREAKING: UNC Receives NCAA Notice of Allegations – More To Follow

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.

Chapel Hill Police Warn Of Phone Scam Targeting Local Businesses

Chapel Hill Police Sergeant Bryan Walker says local businesses have been the target of a recent phone scam.

“Businesses are receiving a telephone call from someone that purports to be from Duke Energy. The way the scam works, the person calls the business and tells whomever answers the phone that they’re late on payment and unless they immediately make a payment, the power will be turned off.”

The scammers threaten to cut off electricity within the hour and demand the victims purchase a pre-paid money card to transfer payment.

Walker says this makes the transaction hard to track once the victim realizes it’s a scam.

The high pressure tactics have proven successful, and they’ve cost some victims hundreds of dollars. In at least one case, the scammers accepted a fraudulent payment, then turned around and asked for more.

“Once the person paid $400, they were immediately told, ‘Well, we didn’t tell you about these other fees, you owe us another $300.’ So if they get one amount of money out of you, they may try to get more immediately.”

Recently, a business owner on Elliot Road got one of these types of calls. She listened to the scammer’s pitch, but hung up and called Duke Energy for confirmation. Walker says if you have doubts, it’s important to hang up and call the utility directly to make sure you’re talking to a real Duke Energy representative.

“The scammers have gotten to the point where they’re a little more sophisticated and if you ask, ‘May I call you back?’, they may say, ‘Absolutely, here’s the number,’ and give you a number that allows them to be ready for your call.”

According to Duke Energy’s website, customers who are behind on payment will receive multiple notices of delinquency over the course of several weeks, never just a single phone call. The power company has set up a webpage describing some of the recent phone scams and offering tips to thwart them.

If you have received any suspicious phone calls, you should alert local police and Duke Energy.

Duke Energy Raises Prices For Renewable Energy

Duke Energy plans to charge residential customers more in order to establish new renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, across North Carolina.

Spokesperson for Duke Energy, Lisa Parrish, explains the changes and how much more customers may be paying.

“Right now, the average residential customer for Duke Energy Carolina is using about 1000 kilowatt hours of electricity, pays about 4 cents a month to comply with the new renewable energy portfolio standards,” says Parrish. “The new writer asks them to pay 39 cents, so that is an increase of 35 cents. Duke Energy progress customers using 1000 kilowatt hours, they are currently paying 20 cents, and that changes to 83 cents.”

She says that these new charges must be made in order to comply with new North Carolina laws that dictate energy costs and where they must be placed for customers.

“Think about it like this: you divide the pie, the renewable energy pie, into three pieces. The sizes of those pieces are dictated by the North Carolina energy law,” says Parrish. “So, more than half the pie, about 59%, is paid for by residential customers, 36% is paid for by commercial customers, and about 5% is paid for by industrial customers. Each of these slices is in proportion to the cost caps set by the North Carolina energy law. The legislation tells us what we can charge these customer classes, and tells us they must be in proportion to the cost.”

Awaiting permission from the Utilities Commission, these new charges are set to go into effect in December of this year.

Duke Energy Grid Will Beat the Heat

Despite the high temperatures across North Carolina, the heat may not pose much of a problem for Duke Energy’s power grids.

Spokesperson for Duke Energy, Jeff Brooks, says that because of the sweltering heat inciting a greater usage of air conditioning, Duke Energy is certainly prepared for the increasing demand for cool airflow.

“We don’t anticipate any problems with meeting customer demand during this time,” says Brooks. “We know it’s very hot, but our grid is ready to respond, and we take steps to ensure that our electric grid is able to respond to customer demand, even when it reaches the high levels as we’re seeing during these hot days.”

Brooks also says that there are a myriad of ways for Duke Energy customers to take steps to still keep their electricity bills low when fighting the heat.

“We want our customers to be comfortable, and certainly we’re going to provide the electricity they need to enjoy their lives,” says Brooks, “but from a bill standpoint, customers can take steps to keep their energy costs lower during periods of high usage.”

Brooks says he suggests taking actions such as setting air conditioning to the highest comfortable setting and to turn it up a few degrees if you will be away from the house most of the day, making sure air filters are clean, using ceiling fans or portable fans, keeping blinds closed, and general maintenance on units. He also says that Duke Energy offers programs for customers to voluntarily decrease their energy usage on days when energy demands are higher to receive credit on their bills for participating.

When it comes to how the heat will affect the machinery of the grid itself, Brooks says that customers can rest assured that they will not have to worry about any technical difficulties.

“The electric grid is a machine, like any other machine, and temperature does have an impact on the way a machine works,” says Brooks, “but we’re not expecting anything that would cause any reliability issues at all; we’re going to be able to meet customer demand during this period.”

Cleaning Up The Coal Ash: What’s The Best Way?

It’s agreed that Duke Energy needs to stop the contamination of waterways and areas surrounding its 33 unlined coal ash ponds at 14 coal-fired power plants located across North Carolina. But state officials, activists and company leaders are at odds over the best way to address the problem.

In the wake of the massive spill into the Dan River in February, environmental groups are demanding that the nation’s largest utility remove the more than 100 million tons of hazardous coal ash away from rivers and lakes.

This would entail drying the coal ash, which contains toxic substance such as lead, arsenic and mercury, according to WCHL’s resident science expert and engineer Jeff Danner.

Duke Energy representatives told a legislative committee last week that removing all of the coal ash away from the state’s rivers and lakes would take decades and cost up to $10 billion, with the company’s customers likely to pay for the majority of the cleanup, the Associated Press reported.

“If it were just the time and the expense involved, I would say, ‘Just go ahead and get on with it,’ but I think it is important to understand that the excavation and transportation process would be an extraordinarily dangerous thing to attempt,” Danner said.

Danner, who has been following the fallout from the coal ash spill, said that from an engineering standpoint, he believes the safest way to deal with the coal ash is to continue to store it on-site, but in a different manner, without having to dry it.

Drying coal ash ponds to remove the waste would be dangerous if it were to become uncontained and dispersed.

Danner suggested incorporating the coal ash into solid blocks of concrete as a safer form of long-term storage.

He said that attempting to dry and move the coal ash waste could prove to be disastrous and result in accidents associated with these types of non-routine procedures, he said.

“In order to keep it on-site and keep it from blowing away in the wind, it is kept under water,” he said. “When you hear ‘coal ash pond,’ [it means] that they are keeping it under the water so that it doesn’t blow away.”

Inhaling coal ash, he said, obviously leads to getting the toxic substance in your lungs which can cause immediate health problems and can lead to cancer.

If the coal ash were to be hauled away in massive amounts to a central lined-landfill, Danner said the risk would be too high. Having to excavate the collection ponds and relocating the massive amounts of coal ash that have accumulated over the years versus disposing of it as it accrued are very different matters.

“I think if you want to say what should have happened in all these years from the very beginning is that it would have been manageable to store this waste and take it off-site in small increments as it was generated over the last couple of decades,” Danner said.

Duke Energy officials told lawmakers last week that they proposed to excavate the coal ash at only three of its power plants in an effort to be more cost efficient. For the remaining plants, they would dry the ash and cover it with giant tarps topped with soil.

Danner said that this method would not be a viable long-term solution either and that the tarps would corrode over time.

The most environmentally friendly and least dangerous threat to human health, he said, could be done without having to dry the coal ash.

From a broader perspective, Danner said that Duke Energy could fund studies to examine the larger issue of coal ash ponds and find better solutions for how to store it.

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.