Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke Energy's clever plan to charge us for cleanup operations

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Make deals with municipal power entities first, everybody else will be forced to follow:

Duke Energy has taken a first, major step toward billing consumers for its coal ash woes by making cost-share deals with several dozen North Carolina communities that buy their electricity wholesale for distribution on community-owned power lines.

In the last few months, the Charlotte-based utility has filed numerous petitions with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington seeking approval of these agreements for customers to pay some of its coal ash costs in “public power” communities ranging from Southport on the coast to Forest City in the western foothills.

You get that, right? Those municipal power "partners" basically do the same thing Duke does, sell power to individual citizens. Power initially generated by Duke Energy itself. And once those citizen ratepayers start shouldering some of the costs for Duke Energy to clean up its coal ash mess, it will be "only fair" that all other citizen ratepayers shoulder some (or all) of that cost. It's a fait accompli move that will put the NC Utilities Commission in an uncomfortable no-win scenario. If they refuse the rate increases for all other Duke customers, they leave the municipal customers paying more than others. If they approve it, they are hurting everybody. Except Duke Energy, of course. And here's a good example of why Duke chose this "divide and conquer" approach to bilking its customers:

In the public-power community of Kings Mountain about 120 miles southwest of Greensboro, officials started sorting out the answers for their community in talks with Duke Energy that began in early 2015 and didn’t conclude until last month when city officials voted unanimously to accept the agreement that still needs FERC approval, said Nick Hendricks, the assistant city manager for energy services in the Cleveland County community.

Kings Mountain owns the power grid within that city and maintains it through an energy services department that also handles billing.

“It was important to the city of Kings Mountain that we not pay for any admitted wrongdoing,” Hendricks said in a telephone interview . “We fought hard not to. ... We are never pleased to pay any additional cost, but we are satisfied with the outcome and the results.”

That's quite possibly one of the stupidest things I've heard/read this year, and that's saying a mouthful. Whether Duke Energy admitted it or not, the "wrongdoing" is plainly evident in their statute-directed requirement to clean up the ash ponds. For decades, their approach to storage of coal ash was reckless, haphazard, and blatantly ignored established hydrological science. But whatever the case, worrying more about who would get blamed for raising rates, as opposed to, you know, the rate increase itself, is a stunning example of bureaucratic bumbling. And now that bumbling might cost the whole damn state more money. Thanks.

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