Concerns over water, air quality continue in Southport as Capital Power seeks DEQ permit renewal; Public hearing set for Thursday

Updated: Nov. 20, 2019 at 4:06 PM EST
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SOUTHPORT, N.C. (WECT) - Nestled slightly north of Southport proper, Capital Power’s plant on Powerhouse Drive produces roughly 88 megawatts.

It also produces 400,000 gallons of wastewater — daily.

The plant uses a variety of materials to produce the power it sells to neighboring Duke Energy and a food manufacturing plant down the road.

After reducing its dependence on coal, the plant moved to old tires and railroad ties among other combustibles as the means of producing steam to generate power.

It’s the burning of those materials, and the ash they leave behind, that are expected to bring out many members of Southport and surrounding communities to a public hearing Thursday night.

“They need to get their act together," said Carole Kozloski, who has lived in a subdivision near the plant for the last year and a half.

Kozloski said she and her husband contacted the North Carolina Coastal Federation, and have attempted to rally the community.

The public hearing is being held by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality over the plant’s application for renewal of its wastewater discharge permit.

NCDEQ responded to the plant’s request by indicating the company needs to increase its efforts to ensure that heavy metals and other compounds are not being discharged into the cooling canal the plant shares with Duke Energy’s nuclear facility.

That canal drains into the Atlantic Ocean just of Caswell Beach, and the state has a similar interest in the plant’s discharge and stormwater runoff into Price’s Creek.

The agency’s letter to the plant manager indicates that the plant has enacted some measures since its last permit was issued, but that based on the volume of wastewater being discharged, the plant will need to move into a higher category of classification with the state, which requires additional monitoring.

Sean Furey, Capital Power’s vice president of solid fuels, said the additional requirements are not a surprise.

“It’s an ongoing process. As better instrumentation becomes available, the more monitoring that is required,” he said.

He said the water that comes out of the plant is within regulations — he explained the plant uses a settling pond system to ensure particulates are not left behind after the ash is removed and transported to a landfill.

“We’re in the business of complying with regulators," he said, adding he wanted to emphasize that on top of the company’s concern for the environment, Capital Power’s employees live in the area too, so there is an internal motivation to produce energy cleanly.

“We don’t want to do anything detrimental to those waterways. We have no interest in doing anything that would impact our employees or the general public.”

Chap Haddon, a biochemical engineer with experience in major industry and a resident of the Turtlewood neighborhood almost directly across the street from the plant, says he has concerns not only about the current and future discharge, but what the plant has been doing for the last three decades.

“When you’re making a decision as to what you’re going to put out today, you need to know what’s going to happen in 30 years. So, what is in the canal? How much is in there? Has it impacted it? What’s in Price’s Creek? How much is in there and what is the future for it? We need to be aware of that,” he said.

Haddon added that the effect of the plant’s discharge is not limited to neighboring subdivisions, or even to Southport.

“Do you like fish? If you like fish, people fish out off of Caswell Beach,” he said, referencing the outflow just offshore. “That’s a known hot-spot for some of the fishermen around here because it’s warmer and the fish like that, and therefore they fish off of there, but what are the fish ingesting? So, it’s actually a chain of events in the biosphere.”

Water quality isn’t the only concern Southport residents have about Capital Power’s operations.

Since she and her husband moved to the area in 2018, Kozloski said they have battled the accumulation of fly ash particles — something residents near the plant have reported for years, and that Haddon also experiences.

Two years ago, Haddon said there was a “burp," where a malfunction at the plant caused a large amount of ash particulates to fall on neighboring processes. It was so significant the plant paid to have many houses power washed in the months that followed.

While it leads to constant cleaning of cars and outdoor furniture, as well as re-painting of their porch, Kozloski said it’s more than an annoyance.

“We’re here, we’re breathing it, our dog is out playing in the grass. God only knows what he’s picking up, what we are breathing in,” she said. “And yes, I’m worried about the environment for sure, but I think me personally I’m more worried about my husband and my health, and our puppy’s health.”

Furey and a spokesperson for Capital Power said in response to WECT’s questions about the particulates that this is the first they are hearing of any issues of this nature since the incident two years ago.

The plant uses a “bag” system to capture and monitor emissions, and if there are any deviations from the norm, they have the ability to shut down the plant.

While the plant’s air quality permit is not up for renewal until late 2020, Kozloski said she and others plan to bring up the issue at Thursday’s meeting on top of the water quality concerns.

“My message to them is either you clean up your facility or you shut it down because you are posing a risk to all of us, for not only our health, our well being, the environment, the animals. It affects everybody,” she said.

The public hearing will take place at Brunswick Community College, Building A, 50 College Road, Bolivia, NC. The meeting begins at 6 p.m., but speakers can begin signing up at 5 p.m.

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