coal ash disposal

NC AG Josh Stein fighting NCUC coal ash cleanup decision

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Customers should not have to pay for Duke Energy's negligence:

State utilities regulators late last month decided that both North Carolina divisions of the country’s No. 2 power company could charge ratepayers the first $778 million chunk of a cleanup projected to cost about $5 billion.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said he’s going to court to try stopping Duke Energy from passing along its costs to excavate some ash pits and cover others. Corporate mismanagement increased costs that shareholders should also be forced to bear, he said in an interview. Duke Energy said that it followed industry practices and applicable regulations. “This case will ultimately be decided by the North Carolina Supreme Court,” Stein said.

Bolding mine, because that's a big reason Republicans have been putting so much money and effort into stacking said Court. It's not just to shield them from consequences of passing unconstitutional laws, although that is a factor. Providing legal cover for big business to take advantage of NC citizens will ensure those maximum campaign donations keep flowing in. But one of the most frustrating things about these Utilities Commission rulings is their grossly imbalanced effort to appear balanced:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Virginia defies Scott Pruitt's rollback of CCR rules

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Providing Roy Cooper a blueprint to do the same:

Virginia's governor says the state has no plans to change its coal ash management practices, despite an Environmental Protection Agency plan to roll back regulations governing the byproduct generated by coal-burning power plants. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement Tuesday that the Department of Environmental Quality will maintain its program for regulating coal ash.

The announcement from Northam comes after the EPA announced in March that it was rewriting the rules. It said at the time that the change would save utilities $100 million annually in compliance costs and give states more flexibility in enforcement. Critics said the changes would weaken protections for human health and the environment. The state also filed written comments with EPA, urging the agency not to weaken the rule.

Just a little background: It took several years from the point the EPA announced it was (finally) going to develop rules for storage and disposal of coal ash, and the actual rules being enacted. Reams of research, thousands of hours of testimony and feedback from the public and utilities went into this before it was promulgated. And the end result was (of course) weaker than many of us had hoped. But not weak enough for Scott Pruitt, apparently. He would have done this regardless, but this petition by a couple of utility groups set the formal process in motion:

Duke Energy to Josh Stein: You don't need to see those documents

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The sheer arrogance of the all-powerful utility is astounding:

“It’s real easy to give money away when it’s not your money,” Clark said, referring to Duke representative David McNeill’s prior comments about the company’s spending on local charities. “If you’re gonna make the money, then suck it up and solve that problem.” The problem Clark is referencing to is what’s been done with past coal ash spills in the state. According to the Associated Press, Duke Energy wants an extra $477 million a year, with an 11 percent return on a measure commonly described as potential profit margin.

The schedule, which included the Richmond County meeting along with ones in Raleigh, Asheville, Snow Hill and Wilmington, was released the same day that Duke Energy said it doesn’t want to turn over documents about its coal ash management requested by Attorney General Josh Stein, who is monitoring the company’s rate request.

There could be any number of reasons why Duke Energy doesn't want legal scrutiny of those documents, from inflation of the actual costs in order to line their pockets or other activities that may fall afoul of state statutes. But there can't be any "good" reasons for them to withhold these documents, and their lame efforts at public relations are not improving their position:

President of Duke Energy to elderly ratepayers: Take colder showers

And Meck Commissioner Pat Cotham wasn't having any of it:

When Duke Energy’s top executive in North Carolina defended the company’s case for a rate hike this week, he sounded “out of touch” with struggling families, says Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham.

“The NC Duke Energy President bragged about how they were more efficient and installing smart meters so we could track our electric usage on our phones,” Cotham wrote. “But most struggling people and seniors don't have smart phones or access to the internet ... Then he said it.....poor people can take colder showers.”

He's more than just a little out of touch. Everything is relative, and it never ceases to amaze me when wealthy people make value judgments about what things cost. He actually said $18 a month "wasn't that much" of an increase. For him, that's only a couple of cocktails at his favorite lounge. But for a lot of other people, that's groceries for 3-4 days. What may be even more astounding, but it's not mentioned in the Char-O piece: Fountain said if customers are worried about their bills spiking up, they could "prepay" them. What? Aside from the fact that creative financing won't reduce the total dollars due from the customer, that program is complicated as hell, and most people would end up having their power disconnected here and there because their account zeroed out and they didn't immediately fix it. And one of those here or there's might happen when it's 22 degrees outside. As "options" go, that's pretty much useless. Just like the rest of Duke Energy's rationalizations.

Duke Energy wants to fleece customers for coal ash cleanup and canceled nuke plant

Asking for a 16.7% rate increase from residential customers:

The increase includes Duke’s request to recover almost $680 million from customers for the money spent since 2015 cleaning up the utility’s coal-ash ponds at eight current and former coal-powered plants in North and South Carolina.

And the filing says Duke will ask the N.C. Utilities Commission to cancel plans for Duke’s proposed Lee Nuclear Station and let Duke charge N.C. customers for the state’s share of more than $540 million in planning and pre-construction costs the utility has already spent on the project. That will be detailed in a separate filing.

Aside from being costly mistakes made by the utility itself, neither one of those things will provide an additional kilowatt of energy for our state. Nothing. If you walked into a Belks or even a Harris Teeter and were greeted with a sign that said, "We made some stupid decisions so now we've raised our prices by almost 17%! Have a nice day!" You would probably turn around and walk right out. But you can't walk out of Duke Energy. If we ever needed the NCUC to stand up and do what's right, this is it.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Insurance companies say "Nope" on paying for cleanup

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One big reason Duke Energy is trying to make us pay:

Dozens of insurance companies say they’re not obligated to help pay for Duke Energy Corp.’s multi-billion dollar coal ash cleanup because the nation’s largest electric company long knew about but did nothing to reduce the threat of potentially toxic pollutants.

The claim is in a filing by lawyers for nearly 30 international and domestic insurance companies that were sued by Duke Energy in March to force them to cover part of the utility’s coal ash cleanup costs in the Carolinas.

In a perfect world, the NC Utilities Commission would be keeping a close eye on this civil case, and if the defendants prove their case that Duke Energy was at fault and should be responsible for shouldering the costs of cleaning up their coal ash, the NCUC would deny Duke's rate increase request on the same grounds. And if Duke Energy won against the insurance companies and they were forced to pay, then there would be no need to jack up our rates. But we don't live in that perfect world, and Duke Energy is notorious for being able to conceal the big picture when they want something. Here's more:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Importing 150,000 tons of ash from India?

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Try to wrap your mind around this one:

As Duke Energy continues a state-ordered cleanup of millions of tons of potentially toxic coal ash, an Ohio company won approval Tuesday to store even more ash imported from India in North Carolina.

The Council of State on Tuesday approved a two-year warehouse lease with Spartan to store 150,000 tons of fly ash imported from India at the state port in Morehead City. Spartan officials couldn’t be reached Tuesday, but a North Carolina Ports official said the ash will go to concrete plants.

That's right, coal-fired power plants in our state, mostly owned by Duke Energy, have been creating over 5 million tons of ash for decades, yet we (apparently) still need to import more of that crap to satisfy the needs of concrete manufacturers. Why? Because it's probably slightly cheaper for Duke Energy to dump it in the ground, or leave it in the ground, so it can pollute our water. And instead of selling more of that surplus(?) ash to concrete people, they are poised to make a shitload of money off ratepayers for moving it or capping it in place. For cleaning up their own mess. This is what we get for placing Duke Energy's profit margin at the top of our regulatory oversight:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Time to pay the Polluting Piper

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Duke Energy seeks hundreds of millions in increased rates to clean up their own mess:

The Company is requesting recovery of ash basin closure compliance costs incurred since January 1, 2015, in the approximate amount of $66 million per year for five years; as well as recovery of ongoing ash basin closure compliance spending in the amount of $129 million per year, with any difference from future spending being deferred until a future base rate case. Recovery of ongoing costs will mitigate the need for future rate increases for compliance costs associated with coal ash basin closure.

This rate increase is further necessary to enable DE Progress to maintain its current financial position in light of those significant capital expenditures undertaken to meet its customers' needs.

Bolding mine, because it takes a special kind of hubris to demand your "financial position" not be jeopardized, regardless of how irresponsible your business practices have been. If this was anybody but Duke Energy or some other fossil fuel giant, the Free Marketers at JLF and Civitas would be having a whole mess of kittens over the idea of such a monopoly, much less the government helping them stay profitable.

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:

Coal Ash Wednesday: The legal battle over cleanup costs begins

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Duke Energy is hoping to fleece ratepayers, but the AG's office is watching:

The coal ash costs that Duke Energy seeks to recover are out-of-the-ordinary and very concerning because they may result in large rate increases for consumers. There are important questions that need to be addressed regarding whether all of the costs that Duke Energy seeks to recover were reasonably and prudentially incurred. It would not be appropriate to make important, binding, substantive determinations regarding recovery of these costs in a procedural, accounting-related docket. The Commission should ensure that all of the issues regarding coal ash cost recovery will not be resolved or prejudged until there is a complete evidentiary record in the upcoming rate cases.

Just to bring you up to speed: After the dam failure that allowed a massive amount of toxic coal ash into the Dan River, Duke Energy's other coal ash impoundments have fallen under close scrutiny, and a number of them have been designated for removal and relocation of the ash to a safer storage place. Duke Energy has estimated these various projects could end up costing as much as ten billion, although many experts say that is wildly inflated. The bottom line is, Duke wants to recoup as much of that cost as it can from customers, shielding its stockholders from shouldering the burden. The Attorney General feels otherwise:

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