Duke Energy demolishing Wilmington coal plant - WRBL

Duke Energy demolishing Wilmington coal plant

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WILMINGTON, N.C. -

Two more of Duke Energy smokestacks -- symbols of years of coal-powered energy generation -- will soon be brought down.

The power company is in the process of decommissioning its Sutton Plant in Wilmington. The plant retired in November of 2013, at the same time a 625-megawatt natural gas plant began operating at the site.

But all the focus is on the site's two coal ash ponds, one of which looks like a barren desert -- cracked and piled with ash -- the other looks more like an actual pond, full of almost clear blue water with coal ash settled at the bottom.

The ponds hold about 2.6 million tons of ash.

The Sutton plant is one of four sites that Senate Bill 729 would require to shut down within 5 years. The bill is scheduled to be taken up by the Senate this week.

"These timelines are incredibly aggressive, they're going to place a lot of significant pressures on the company and we want to be able to have time to do the right surveys and develop the right plan," said Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks.

Groundwater contamination has been a major concern at the site, after monitoring wells showed spikes in contaminants. Drinking water wells sit right next to Duke's property. Duke agreed to provide to pay for a new water line for a nearby neighborhood, a move they say was solely proactive.

"We've seen absolutely no anomalies in any of those wells, and we’ll continue to watch throughout this process," Brooks said.

The ponds also sit right next to Sutton Lake, which is actually a cooling pond Duke Energy built for their power plant. It's a popular fishing hole for locals, who have raised concerns about contamination. While in operation, water from the ash ponds was pumped into Sutton Lake, according to Duke's state-approved permits.

Selenium levels exceeded state standards in 2007-2009, which Duke attributed to drought conditions.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

Jonathan Rodriguez

Jonathan Rodriguez is an investigative reporter and member of the WNCN Investigates team. His storytelling specialty is connecting the dots to get to the truth, with a goal of delivering results for our community. If you have something you’d like WNCN to investigate, contact Jonathan.

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