Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke hints at massive rate increases over excavation order

This song is getting painfully old:

In its statement, Duke Energy said excavating the final nine pits would add about “$4 billion to $5 billion to the current estimate of $5.6 billion for the Carolinas.” The company warned that excavation at some sites could take decades, stretching well beyond current state and federal deadlines. It also said excavation would cost significantly more than it would to cap the coal ash under a heavy cover and soil.

Holleman said the company “greatly exaggerates” its cost estimates without taking into account the damage it has caused to the environment and to people’s health. He said the company also underestimates the cost it would incur if it simply drained and capped coal ash in the unlined pits.

Had a conversation (that turned into an argument) recently with a man trying to defend Duke Energy's history of coal ash storage. "Science has come a long way since then" was the major thrust of his argument, trying to give the utility an "out" for not using liners in their coal ash pits. Of course that's not true, because solid waste engineers have known since the late 1960's that toxins can leach into the groundwater from unlined landfills. And of course Duke Energy knew this too, but they were more concerned with returning healthy quarterly dividends than being good stewards of the environment. But hopefully they will soon find out that having us pay for their mistakes won't be as easy as it has been:

Last year, the N.C. Utilities Commission allowed Duke Energy to charge ratepayers $546 million for the cost of coal ash cleanup, but it wouldn’t let the company charge for any future costs and fined it $70 million for mishandling the coal ash. State Attorney General Josh Stein says he plans to appeal the $546 million ruling.

Sheehan, the Duke spokeswoman, said Tuesday the utilities commission has determined in the past that costs should be passed on to customers, “so we would seek to recover any future expenses as well.”

Holleman noted that neighboring Virginia and South Carolina have made utility companies in those states excavate all of their coal ash pits. In South Carolina, he said, the work is almost complete and utility rates have not increased.

Duke Energy has become a master at shuffling its profits around to make it look like it's barely keeping its head above water. In reality, there are tens of billions socked away in separate accounts, some of which they use to buy up utilities across the country and around the world. They do not need to raise rates to pay for this cleanup, but even if they did, it would still be wrong. They made the mess, and they need to clean it up.