Duke Energy is asking the N.C. Utilities Commission to raise electricity rates on its customers by an average of $8 / month for residents or almost $100 / year to pay for coal ash clean-up. The N.C. The Utilities Commission will hold public hearings in Alamance County on Wednesday and Charlotte on Thursday to take rate-payer comments on Duke Energy’s plan to raise power bills.
The event Wednesday at 7 p.m. is part of the N.C. Utilities Commission’s review of the power company’s requested rate hike, expected to generate more than $445 million in additional yearly revenue.
The utility says that if approved in full, “a typical 1,000-kilowatt-hour residential bill would increase from $108.20 to $116.26,” costing the average residential customer about $97 more per year.
During this week’s hearing at the Alamance County Historic Courthouse in Graham, regulators can expect to hear from at least some, and perhaps many, who think parts of the increase are unjustified.
A coalition of environmental and civic groups plans to hold a news conference immediately before the hearing to protest Duke energy’s plan to include its coal ash cleanup costs in the rate hike.
“The proposed increase in electric operating revenues includes $123.6 million associated with these environmental compliance costs,” the utility said of coal ash spending in its Sept. 30 petition seeking the commission’s approval.
That’s about 28% of the proposed overall increase.
But protesters say it’s unfair to stick customers with Duke Energy’s bill for cleaning up storage lagoons full of coal ash dating back decades.
“We’re particularly outraged that they think that’s an appropriate thing to do,” said Hope Taylor, executive director of the nonprofit Clean Water for North Carolina.
Taylor said she and her group had been warning Duke Energy and state environmental officials about the coal ash threat for years before the 2014 spill at the Dan River Steam Station triggered a statewide cleanup.
But the utility and environmental officials willfully ignored those earlier calls to action, Taylor said.
“Duke’s own groundwater data was showing that contamination was taking place,” Taylor said of her group’s efforts to sound the alarm in years past. “They’ve known about these liabilities and risks for decades.”
Taylor’s group and others that are part of the protest believe Duke Energy should bear the complete cost of cleanup along with its shareholders.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality plans a separate public hearing next month in Walnut Cove focused on the ecological aspects of the Belews Creek basin closure.
Groups planning to speak out Wednesday evening before the Utilities Commission include Taylor’s group, the Alliance of Carolinians Together Against Coal Ash, Appalachian Voices, Down East Coal Ash Coalition, and the Lilies project.
Speakers at the public hearings get three minutes to make their points.
The commission will reach a decision on Duke Energy’s proposed increase after an “evidentiary hearing” March 23 in Raleigh, a proceeding during which it takes testimony from industry experts.“
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