State environmental regulators recently approved a major step in the coal ash cleanup process at the Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County.

Early last year, Duke Energy reached a settlement with the state and environmental groups on how to close its remaining coal ash basins. The company agreed to excavate the ash and place it into lined landfills. Some of those sites including Belews Creek, required a new double lined landfill to be built. 

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality recently issued a permit for that to happen at the Belews power plant.  

Duke Energy is clearing trees and making other preparations to begin the process.  The landfill will be built inside of the ash basin.

Bill Norton, a spokesman for Duke Energy, says construction will begin later this year.

“You're talking 12 million tons that have to be removed. It will take until 2034, but we are already making great progress in making that happen,” says Norton.

Duke Energy is also required to do ground water monitoring underneath the basin. Norton says that's already taking place and will continue for 30 years after the landfill is completed.

The company says it's trying to get coal ash in the rear view mirror and move into a cleaner energy future. That includes investing in more solar projects, adding natural gas at plants like Belews Creek and building coal ash recycling facilities at some sites.

This comes as a controversial energy reform bill is being debated in the state legislature. House Bill 951 would set guidelines for retiring Duke Energy's coal fired plants and make changes to the process that utility companies would go through to request a rate hike among other things.

But some lawmakers and environmental groups say the proposal doesn't go far enough to promote clean energy or address climate change concerns and would drive up electricity costs for customers.

Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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