Consumers and Advocates Ask NC Utilities Commission to Reject Duke’s Half-Billion Dollar Rate Hike

Press release from MountainTrue:

Duke Energy customers and environmental, consumer and welfare advocates are calling on the North Carolina Utilities Commission to reject a proposal by Duke Energy to make consumers pay for the company’s coal ash cleanup through higher bills and fees. Duke customers can make their opposition known at a public hearing of the Utilities Commission on Wednesday, September 27 at 7 p.m. at the Buncombe County Courthouse.

Duke Energy’s proposal would amount to a $477.5 million increase in the amount that Duke can collect from its ratepayers each year. The typical residential customer would see the fixed charge that they pay every month, regardless of the amount of energy that they use, nearly double from $11.13 to $19.50. Their electric rates would increase on average by 16.7%, approximately $18 more per month.

Customers and advocates oppose the plan because it puts the entire burden for costs related to the cleanup of toxic coal ash on the customer. Of the nearly half-billion dollar increase that Duke is requesting of the Commission, $311 million is for recovery for costs spent excavating coal ash at its Asheville, Mayo, Roxboro, Cape Fear, Lee, Robinson, Sutton and Weatherspoon facilities in 2015 and 2016. Duke estimates that its coal ash cleanup costs at those plants will total more than $2.5 billion over the next 40 years.

Opponents of the rate hike are confident that they are on solid legal ground in asking for the Utilities Commission to reject the rate hike and fee increase. North Carolina law only allows for a utility’s cost to be paid by customers if they are reasonable and prudent. Duke Energy’s own insurance providers have refused to cover costs associated with Duke’s coal ash liabilities, citing Duke’s failure “to take reasonable measures to avoid and/or mitigate” the damages resulting from coal ash disposal. In 2015, Duke Energy pled guilty to violating environmental laws related to coal ash pollution from five of its North Carolina power plants.

“Coal ash has resulted in the contamination of lakes, rivers and drinking water supplies,” explains Hartwell Carson, the French Broad Riverkeeper at MountainTrue, a western North Carolina nonprofit that led the fight for cleaner energy and the cleanup of Duke’s coal ash pits. “North Carolina residents have already paid a heavy price, and now Duke Energy wants to bill us for their negligence and mismanagement, too.”

Present in coal ash are heavy metals and toxic chemicals that can be harmful to humans and wildlife. Arsenic poisoning can lead to heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases and diabetes. Cobalt has been linked to cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, blood poisoning, liver injury and thyroid problems. Chromium is a carcinogen, and hexavalent chromium was the subject of the movie Erin Brockovich, which was based on the true story of groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California by Pacific Gas Electric Company.

MountainTrue and other advocates are encouraging members of the public who have concerns about Duke Energy’s proposal to attend the public hearing of the Utilities Commission on Wednesday, September 27 at 7 p.m. at the Buncombe County Courthouse.

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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