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Duke Energy customers to save $1.1 billion in settlement over coal ash cleanup costs

Duke Energy, North Carolina officials and the Sierra Club announced Monday an agreement over the coal ash cleanup. Duke Energy agreed to pay over $1 billion to recycle the ash and close the plants producing them, but the customers may get stuck with the rest of the bill. 

Under the settlement  — which still must be approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission — the amount covered by the company’s 3.4  million customers would be reduced from the previous $4 billion through 2030 to $3 billion.

From WCNC:

Attorney General Stein, the Public Staff and the Sierra Club appealed that decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which issued its decision in December. Monday’s settlement applies to cleanup costs incurred from 2015 through 2030. 

“Today’s settlement is a win for every Duke Energy customer,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “I have long held that North Carolinians should not bear the full cost of cleaning up coal ash. As a result of today’s settlement, we won’t — to the tune of more than $1 billion. I’m proud that this result will save customers’ money and grateful for the partnership with the Public Staff and the Sierra Club.”

Although consumers will see savings, the total projected cost for coal ash clean up in North Carolina over the next decade is approximately $4 billion, according to a spokesperson for Duke Energy. 

Stein acknowledged that consumers will be expected to shoulder the $3 billion that Duke is not covering.

“Before the settlement, practically all the costs were on the backs of the customer,” Stein said. “It’s wrong for North Carolinians to bear the full cost of the cleanup. Duke’s shareholders should pay its fair share.”

According to the Charlotte Business Journal, the reduced coal-ash costs would cut about $1 a month for average bills to Duke Carolinas’ residential customers from what the ultimate rates would have been if Duke won the full costs.

Duke also agreed to reduce the return it is allowed to make on coal-ash costs until early 2030. According to N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, that combined with Duke’s agreement to pay some costs, will save customers about $1.1 billion over the next 10 years.

Yet, customers will still be liable for the majority of Duke Energy’s mess, which resulted in one of the biggest coal ash spills in the county due to their negligence

For years, 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.

Just two years ago, 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: While this may be a small win, Duke Energy has gotten away with making ratepayers foot the bill for far too long.  Especially during a pandemic that has resulted in financial devastation for millions, North Carolinians shouldn’t pay for Duke Energy’s irresponsible management of its coal ash pits. 

Whether it is $3 billion or a dollar, Duke Energy can surely afford to create its mess and can afford to clean it up on its own.

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Alanna Joyner