Ratepayers beware: Coal ash cost should be viewed separately from Duke’s operational expenses.
Public comment needed by April 12!
What can ratepayers and impacted communities do?
Public input is needed as Duke Energy seeks to recover coal ash cleanup cost from the more than 3 million NC costumers who rely on the utility as their sole electricity provider. Delaying the coal ash costs would allow the company to lump coal ash expenses with other operational cost such as, “environmental compliance” in a general rate case that would be held sometime later in the year. Delaying ash cleanup cost could distract from the actual expenses and threatening impacts of coal ash.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) will soon make a decision on Duke Energy’s request to delay a review of coal ash cleanup costs until the next general rate case. Duke Energy must provide a 6 month formal notice before a general rate case is held. At this point, there is not a public hearing or comment period scheduled for Duke Energy’s coal ash cost deferment request.
However, you can email Utilities Commission Chairman Ed Finley and request a public hearing in your area on Duke Energy’s decision to delay coal ash costs for review in a later rate case. Emails should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org with “DOCKET NO. E-2, SUB 1103/NO. E-7, SUB 1110” in the subject line by April 12th.
How much is Duke Energy asking from ratepayers at this time?
Duke Energy has not said exactly how much the rate hikes associated with coal ash cleanup would affect customer rates, but has requested to delay $726 million spent in coal ash cleanup expenses until the next general rate case, later in the year.
Pushing cost back for review in a general rate case at a later date by the NCUC is also known as a “deferment.” The NCUC would have to agree on Duke’s request in order to push back coal ash cleanup cost until a general rate case before cleanup cost could be passed on to customers. Duke Energy’s deferment request (Docket No. E-2, Sub 1103 and E-7, Sub 1110).
Duke Energy estimates about $5 billion as its baseline for the cleanup of its unlined coal ash basins in North and South Carolina. As the company spends money on cleanups, it plans to charge those cost to its ratepayers. In its year-end earnings report 2016, Duke Energy says “multiple” North Carolina rate hikes are very likely by 2021.
The company has been dumping coal ash in communities in North Carolina and others as far away as Georgia. The distance ash is moved to final disposal sites can sometimes be over 100 miles, thus being prone to numerous travel risks in communities along the transport routes.
Changes in NC law allow the company to keep two-thirds of its North Carolina coal ash in the ground instead of fully excavating, in exchange for providing a permanent water supply to impacted neighbors.
Ratepayers deserve more detailed financial information from Duke Energy that will allow its customers to easily review all coal ash cleanup associated cost and company estimates. Financial information should include the toll for ongoing and potential impacts to public health and the environment based on the approved cleanup methods for each coal ash site.
Duke Energy received federal convictions in violation of the Clean Water Act for the improper operations that caused the 2014 Dan River spill in Eden, NC which released 39,000 tons of coal ash slurry. In response, the state adopted the Coal Ash Management Act setting standards for coal ash basin cleanup and closure. On the contrary, Duke Energy contends that closing its coal ash basins are part of operating expenses that should be paid by ratepayers. Coal ash cleanup expenses should be reviewed by the NCUC in its own rate case, separate from any operating or compliance cost. No cost should be passed on to the ratepayers as a result of Duke’s own long-term negligence and criminal activity regarding coal ash!