Charlotte Business Journal: Duke Energy Carolinas, critics continue to quarrel over coal-ash costs

On Friday, North Carolina regulators wrapped up hearings on Duke Energy Carolinas’ proposed rate hikes on its customers. Duke Energy Carolinas is seeking a 2.1 percent rate hike over the next two years — essentially forking over its $490 million in coal-ash clean up to customers.

The N.C. Attorney General’s Office, Sierra Club and the Public Staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission are among many opponents who contend that Duke Energy Carolinas should not be able to recover all of their coal-ash costs from customers. Witnesses testified that “Duke’s own failures to properly handle coal ash in retention basins for decades caused at least some of the costs the utility wants to pass on to customers”.

From Charlotte Business Journal

Expert witnesses for the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, the Sierra Club and the Public Staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission were challenged by Duke. They testified that Duke’s own failures to properly handle coal ash in retention basins for decades caused at least some of the costs the utility wants to pass on to customers. 

A witness for the Sierra Club also testified that all of Duke’s remaining coal plants operate at a loss — costing customers unnecessarily. And two witnesses for the Public Staff also testified that in some cases Duke spent more than was necessary on troubled cleanup operations and some of those costs should be rejected as charges to customers. 

Stephen Hart, an environmental consultant with Hart & Hickman in Charlotte, who was an attorney general’s witness, may have been the most critical of Duke’s practices. 

Hart spent almost all of Wednesday on the witness stand. He contended the dangers of environmental damage were well known to the utility industry by the late 1970s or early 1980s. But he said despite that Duke had repeatedly failed to follow state and federal guidelines for monitoring coal-ash contamination to groundwater. Contamination was found, he testified, and it repeatedly failed to follow the regulations for stopping contamination and remediating the groundwater.

In January, Duke Energy reached a settlement to clean up over 80 tons of coal ash across the state.

For over 35 years, Duke Energy disregarded its own negligence and requests for inspections, which ultimately led to one of the biggest coal ash spills in the county.

Since then, Duke Energy has attempted to propose several rate hike requests, including a request to raise over $123 million on the backs of rate-payers to pay for their toxic coal ash clean up.

For years, Duke Energy has used its influence and profit-driven agenda to try to shrink its responsibility. They even donated heavily during the 2018 elections in order to gain support for a highly controversial bill that would have made it easier to pass cleanup costs on to customers.

Last year, the state Utilities Commission authorized Duke Energy to charge state customers to recover hundreds of millions of dollars the energy giant spent on closing ash sites around the state — despite hundreds of communities being impacted by Duke Energy’s negligence.

Bottom Line: Duke Energy got away with making ratepayers foot the bill last time, but should not be able to this time. North Carolinians shouldn’t pay for Duke Energy’s irresponsible management of its coal ash pits. Not now or in the future.

Alanna Joyner

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