Duke Wants to Charge Customers for Ash Pond Emptying
Duke Energy expects its customers to pay the costs of emptying the utility’s 31 coal ash ponds in North Carolina, chief executive Lynn Good said, according to the Charlotte Observer.
The company is outlining options for dealing with the ash ponds, a document that governor Pat McCrory has requested by March 15, and says that such clean-up efforts will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Duke said the company and its stockholders will pay the costs of cleaning up the recent 39,000-ton coal ash spill into the Dan River. State regulators have charged Duke with violations at Dan River and five other power plants, and the federal government has also launched a criminal investigation.
But if the state forces the company to close down other ash pits, this cost could fall to ratepayers.
“Ash pond closure has been a plan for a very long time,” Good said. “And because that ash was created over decades for the generation of electricity, we do believe that ash pond disposal costs are ultimately a part of our cost structure.
“But the determination of payment will be up to the North Carolina Utilities Commission and how that they handle that, so I think that’s something that will unfold over time.”
Attorney general Roy Cooper said he would oppose billing customers for the clean-up. And Duke could have a hard time recovering costs if the ponds are in violation of state standards.
Last week, Judge Paul Ridgeway of Wake County Superior Court in North Carolina ordered Duke Energy to act immediately to eliminate sources of groundwater contamination at its coal ash dumps, the New York Times reports. Ridgeway said state regulators had failed to properly apply state law. His ruling addressed a complaint filed in 2012.
But Duke has been allowed to charge customers for environmental clean-up in the past, including $2.8 billion that the company and the former Progress Energy spent to comply with emissions limits under the 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act.
Duke expects to spend $4.5 billion to $5.5 billion on environmental costs, including closing ash ponds, in six states over the next decade.
McCrory, a former Duke executive, declined to comment on the cost allocation, the News & Observer reports. “We ought to let the utilities commission do their work in making those very complex decisions,” he said.
Meanwhile the director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality said the state will monitor water supplies and aquatic life over several years to assess any potential damage from the Dan River spill. So far, sampling of public drinking supplies in Danville and South Boston have met or exceeded state and federal standards, the Huffington Post reported.
Takeaway: Duke Energy will seek to raise customer rates to pay for emptying 31 coal ash ponds, although the company and its shareholders will pay costs relating to its February spill into the Dan River.
Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.
Pictured: Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station; USFWS/Steven Alexander
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