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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Duke Energy Discloses Possible Plans to Purge Wilmington's Sutton Plant of Coal Ash

Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks stands before a dried ash basin on the grounds of the Sutton Plant in Wilmington.

Wilmington’s Sutton Plant is one of five statewide Duke Energy coal operations being decommissioned—and the closing of this one is of high priority to lawmakers. In November, Duke Energy retired Sutton’s coal operations. Although it’s now a natural gas plant, more than two million tons of dried coal ash—the waste generated after coal is burned—remains on the site. And the legislation that will determine exactly how much time Duke has to dispose of it all is pending in the General Assembly’s current session. WHQR has this look at the Sutton Plant’s retired coal operation.

Two ash basins, eight bays, a pond, a large lake, a few hills of piled-up coal ash—along with some dormant combustion turbines--border trees and marshland on the grounds of Duke Energy’s Sutton Energy Plant. Spokesperson Jeff Brooks says this network exists to help dry and detoxify the ash before it could conceivably reach the Cape Fear River.

"Ash is added at the top of the basin—of the primary basin. It then goes through a series of processes, moving through a polishing basin, and then to a clean pond at the end. And once it’s gone to those three steps, it’s then discharged into Sutton Lake, which is also part of the plant. It’s a cooling plant for the site. So the ash goes through four steps before it would ever be discharged to the public."

Duke still doesn’t know how it will dispose of all that ash. Brooks says that plan hinges on the timeline determined by lawmakers. He says that within several months, however, Duke will submit to the state a proposal to either excavate all Sutton’s ash to a lined landfill, cap the basins, or find a beneficial reuse such as converting all that coal ash to fortify concrete for building projects.