Coal, The Costly Killer

Duke Energy, America’s largest electric company was recently ordered the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to excavate the coal ash from all of its North Carolina power plant sites. The action was taken to reduce the risk of toxic chemicals in the coal ash from seeping into the subsurface and contaminating water supplies.

Coal ash is the waste that is left after coal is burned in electric power plants. Coal ash typically contains heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that living next to a coal ash disposal site can increase your risk of cancer.

The DEQ ruling decision affects six coal-burning plants currently operating in North Carolina. Michael Regan, North Carolina DEQ Secretary stated, “We did a thorough analysis of the six sites and it wasn’t a decision that was made by other reasons than the science. We’re making these decisions so that they are most protective of public health and the environment.”

Duke Energy must remove the coal ash and residue from the six coal-fired power plants. The company has estimated that the mandated coal ash cleanup could cost up to $5 billion. Duke Energy pleaded guilty in 2015 to federal environmental crimes after an investigation found the company allowed coal ash dumps at five power plants to leak toxic waste into water supplies. The company agreed to pay $102 million in fines and restitution. Duke Energy is a multinational electric company, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The toxicity of coal ash can’t be disputed. Coal also generates 30% to 40% more CO2 than natural gas. The cost to generate electricity from coal-fired power plants is more than double the cost to generate electricity from wind, solar or hydropower. In my opinion, no responsible utility should use coal to fuel electric power plants.

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