Hurricane Florence is raising some concerns from environmentalists about possible flooding that could impact coal ash ponds across the state.

Duke Energy says it already has some safety measures in place.

It has been working on draining several coal ash basins, particularly those near the coast. The company says this will allow the basins to take in more water, if flooding from the hurricane is an issue.

“In terms of preparing for the storm, where we are sending our ground staff ahead of time [is] Cape Fear, H.F. Lee, Sutton and Weatherspoon in North Carolina, and Robinson in South Carolina. Those are the ones that are closer to the coast, closer to the storm,” says Bill Norton, a spokesman with Duke Energy.

And Norton says there's a new addition to the company's toolbox: drones that can monitor changes at high-risk sites.

“The drones will be able to get out there once the winds die down, but water is still an issue, so that helps us react even quicker than we might have been able to in the past.”

Norton says the company started using drones over the past few years to monitor solar panels. They were also used in Puerto Rico last year after Hurricane Maria.

“In Puerto Rico with the storm recovery there, we went as far as restringing lines by drone because stuff there was so inaccessible,” Norton says. “We're not anticipating that here, but over the years we have gotten a lot more advanced in terms of what we can do.” 

Duke Energy faced scrutiny from environmental groups after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. The storm caused a breach in a cooling pond at a power plant near Goldsboro.

Coal ash is the waste left after burning coal. It contains arsenic, mercury, lead and other heavy metals, many of them toxic.

The company said at the time that no measurable amounts of contaminants reached the Neuse River.

North Carolina law requires Duke Energy to close all 31 of its ash basins by 2029. Norton says it also plans to close them in every state in which it operates.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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