Consumers shouldn’t pay cleanup costs for coal ash dumping

Op-Ed by Rachel Velez, Clean Water for North Carolina
Published in the Burlington Times-News

January 26, 2020

Impacted community members and environmental justice activists won a huge victory earlier this month when the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, community groups and Duke Energy signed a settlement agreement requiring the utility giant to fully excavate 80 million tons of coal ash from leaking, unlined pits in six sites across the state.

This isn’t a complete victory, however, if Duke Energy is allowed to shove the cost of its coal ash cleanup onto customers — and that’s exactly what it’s asking the N.C. Utilities Commission to do with coal ash cleanup that has already been happening since the last rate case in 2018.

Duke Energy Carolinas wants to raise electric rates by at least 6.7% for its customers, increasing electricity cost for an average customer by over $100 per year.

Duke’s insurance companies have refused to cover costs related to coal ash liabilities. They point out that Duke knew of the risks of spreading contamination but continued to dump ash into unlined pits. If the company’s own insurers refuse to pay for Duke’s failure to adequately monitor, avoid and mitigate the damages from the storage of toxic coal waste pits, why should we, the customers?

Also, a 2018 rate hike approved by the commission has been appealed by the state attorney general all the way to the N.C. Supreme Court, which will rule soon on whether Duke can be allowed to recover coal ash cleanup costs from ratepayers.

Duke is claiming that the cost of the cleanup is part of its service to customers, stating on its website: “The cost of that service is a responsibility we all share as consumers of electricity, so that the public and the environment are protected now and in the future.”

But Duke’s coal ash management decisions weren’t open for public input at all. Customers should not be held responsible for Duke’s stunningly poor decision making.

Another part of Duke’srate hike request is a $2.3 billion advance payment for ambiguous “grid investments,” a costly black box that wouldn’t allow for public input to ensure clean energy investments, such as large scale solar and wind.

“Grid modernization” may sound promising, but don’t be fooled. Instead of focusing on costly projects such as underground wiring, Duke should be making the grid accessible to renewable energy from a range of sources, bringing energy bills down and reducing both environmental and climate impacts.

Join us for a press conference hosted by the Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash prior to the Duke Energy rate hike hearing at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the Alamance County Historic Courthouse, 1 Court Square in Graham. The ACT Alliance, a coalition of communities living near Duke coal ash sites, believes that Duke Energy should receive no rate increases for the costs of cleaning upcoal ash in North Carolina.

The press conference will be followed by the 7 p.m. hearing on Duke Energy Carolinas’ rate hike request.Duke’s customers are encouraged to attend the hearing and testify about the impact of Duke’s rate hikes for its ongoing dirty energy plan.

Clean Water for NorthCarolina and other groups say Duke must take responsibility for its coal ash mess, not customers like us!

Rachel Velez is a Duke Energy customer in Hillsborough and an environmental justice organizer with Clean Water for North Carolina.

Read the article on the Burlington Times-News

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