Duke Energy

Coal Ash Wednesday: The amazing disappearing fines


$18 million gone, unlike the Dan River coal ash, which is still there:

"This was a pennies-on-the-dollar settlement," Longest says. "And it raises serious concerns about whether [DEQ] is trying to protect the environment of North Carolina or trying to protect Duke from further litigation."

DEQ isn't saying much about the settlement, which also orders Duke to "accelerate" cleanup at four of its most faulty lagoons, in Asheville, Wilmington, Goldsboro and Belews Creek. Through a representative, DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart declined an interview request, directing the INDY instead to the agency's press statement.

Oh no, van der Vaart isn't going to answer any pesky questions, but he will take to the Op-Ed pages and pen a self-righteous rebuttal to any bad press he might receive. As far as that "protecting Duke from further litigation," if it looks and swims and quacks like a corporate duck, well. You know the rest. I was going to add something about how corporate ducks are prone to vicious attacks if you don't throw the bread fragments to them quickly enough, but that would be carrying the duck reference a little too far, so I'll leave that alone.

Coal Ash Wednesday: DEQ rolls over for $7 million


They might as well join Duke Energy's legal team:

The company is settling a fine from earlier this year for $7 million. The amount is short of what the state originally wanted, and it looks like Duke could get a lot more out of the agreement in the future. “And under the terms of that agreement, duke energy will pay $7 million and resolve all of the groundwater issues past, present and future at all 14 of our coal plants,” said Sheehan.

“It's one of those situations where if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention,” said Southern Environment Law Center Senior Attorney Frank Holleman.

Let's see, originally it was $25 million for just one plant, and now it's $7 million for the whole shebang. Yep, I'd say "outrageous" is not an overstatement. DEQ is either horrifically inept, or they're simply playing a part in a Kabuki theatre, like we've been speculating about since they first began to insinuate themselves into lawsuits against Duke Energy.

The eminent domain faux-Libertarians don't want to talk about

When for-profit energy companies take your land:

Property owners in Henderson and Polk counties are learning about the limits on their rights to control the property they own and to control what happens to the hillside they view from their back porch.

When electric power lines and pipelines are needed for the public use and benefit, the state of North Carolina grants private companies the right to condemn the property necessary for their projects. So when Duke Energy provides a case that the increasing use of electricity in Western North Carolina justifies the installation of a new power line from South Carolina leading up to Asheville, they are granted the ability to condemn the property along a selected route for the transmission line.

While the issue of government exercising eminent domain to secure land for the general public's transportation and utility needs is complex, and not suited to across-the-board declarations of right or wrong, the hypocrisy of "property rights" advocates on the right is neither complex nor justifiable. If elected officials overreach they can be removed from office, but the general public has no recourse when corporations are granted the power to take property. And when those conquests result in profits, the perpetrators are usually rewarded, sometimes to the tune of millions in salary and stock options. True Libertarians would be horrified by that, but corporate puppets wearing a Libertarian mask? Crickets.

Excerpts from Duke Energy's Quarterly Earnings Call

Rumors of their struggling are greatly exaggerated:

In June, we completed our $1.5 billion accelerated stock repurchase ahead of schedule. Further, last month we announced that the Board of Directors increased the quarterly dividend to $0.825 per share, doubling the annual growth rate to around 4 percent. This increase reflects our confidence in the strength of our core business and our cash flows.

Our balance sheet provides continued support for growth in the dividend. For the past 89 years, the dividend has demonstrated our commitment to delivering attractive total returns to shareholders.

Unless I'm mistaken, that stock repurchase was not financed or leveraged, it was the expenditure of liquid assets. Why is that important? Because with a corporation as large as Duke is, spending those big piles of cash is just as important as bringing them in. And when Duke isn't buying up their own stock to artificially enhance its value, they're buying up generation facilities of other companies, to increase their holdings:

Duke Energy self-reports "no contamination found" in Lumberton

In a related story, Fluffy the dog says, "I don't know who tore up that couch pillow, but I'll keep an eye out."

Tests near the coal ash site at the closed Weatherspoon Power Plant in Lumberton show no hazardous levels of toxic material, Duke Energy officials said Thursday. Duke just competed groundwater testing near the Lumberton plant, according to Duke spokeswoman Zenica Chatman. The tests showed no impact on nearby wells or the Lumber River, she said.

"We're very encouraged by what we're seeing," she said.

She says, while looking at the stock readout showing Duke Energy's stock stabilizing at around $72 per share. As is often the case when PR makes it into the regular news columns, there's more to be learned in the commentary:

Duke Energy coal ash propaganda in the op-ed columns

Misleading people is much cheaper than environmental stewardship:

In response to your Aug. 18 editorial ("Why not recycle coal ash instead of burying it?"), we at Duke Energy agree that as much coal ash as possible should be recycled. State policy leaders also strongly support the option and outlined provisions in the N.C. Coal Ash Management Act to encourage recycling.

The structural fill projects at the mines in Lee and Chatham counties, for example, are a form of beneficial reuse for the ash stored in basins. By reclaiming those sites and safely placing coal ash in them with many layers of protective liners, we will help repurpose land that can be reused for future development.

Bolding mine. There is only going to be one "liner" in the classic sense of a man-made polymer, the rest are a couple of layers of various composites of clay. Calling those "liners" is like calling the leaves over your head a roof. And that single polymer liner won't be a continuous (as in unbroken) liner, it will be several pieces that need to be connected and sealed, hopefully properly. But even if that liner doesn't leak, the nasty leachate water from the coal ash isn't going to stay in the impoundment, it's going to be pumped out on a regular basis and disposed of:

Coal Ash Wednesday: DENR to permit massive discharges from Sutton Plant


It's not a "leak" if they let you spill it:

A public hearing on a discharge permit related to Duke Energy’s planned coal-ash cleanup has been moved to Aug. 6, a day later than originally scheduled.

Duke Energy is excavating and reburying 7.2 million tons of coal ash on the plant site to comply with a state law requiring the utility to close and clean up its coal-ash ponds throughout North Carolina. The Sutton plant was among the first on the list for cleanup because it has been actively leaking toxic substances into the groundwater and the Cape Fear River.

I'm not naïve, I realize the impoundments need to be "de-watered" before they can be dug up and hauled away. But just because the river is right there handy doesn't mean polluting it is the only way to go. They wouldn't be allowed to do that if it were a Superfund site, and considering the toxins involved, the only difference is in the name. Here's part of the NPDES Permit:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Groups challenge proposed coal ash dumps


If It's such a good idea, why the shortcuts?

The groups—the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump (CCACAD) and EnvironmentaLEE—filed a petition for a contested case hearing with the state's Office of Administrative Hearings Monday. The office hears legal cases against state agencies such as DENR.

In their legal challenge, the nonprofits say DENR's actions will have a "significant and adverse impact on the health and well-being" of the environmental groups' members, as well as their families and their property. The challenge also claims that DENR acted "erroneously" and regulated the projects as mine reclamation projects rather than landfills. "Communities targeted for coal ash disposal deserve a regulatory agency that has their best interests at heart, not what is in the best interest of Duke Energy," said BREDL community organizer Therese Vick in a statement. "DENR had sufficient reason to deny the permits, and they did not."

I realize other groups want this to proceed as quickly as possible, so the leaking from various older ponds will be brought to a halt. But that's no reason to ignore the same kinds of bad decisions that led to the coal ash crisis in the first place.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Swimming in industry propaganda


Duke Energy hires a professional liar to represent their interests:

Rudo and Duke’s expert, Lisa Bradley, a nationally known expert in coal ash toxicology, also clashed over the chemical element vanadium. They split over whether the state had issued “do not drink” recommendations to dozens of well owners based on vanadium findings less than those people routinely encounter safely in everyday life.

“So you’re getting more in your daily vitamin than you would drinking water at that screening level,” Bradley said of the state’s trigger level for issuing “do not drink” warnings for vanadium found in wells.

Wall Street is betting you and I will pay for coal ash cleanup

And Duke Energy shareholders are already reaping the benefits:

The aforementioned state legislation imposed a moratorium on Duke from seeking any sort of rate increase related to the clean-up through mid-January this year. But last week, the ratings agency Fitch upgraded Duke’s credit rating, in part reflecting the “significant, albeit manageable” coal-ash clean-up costs, as well as its expectation that the costs incurred will be recoverable from ratepayers.

Clearly, the market believes Duke will recover costs via ratepayers. The stock hit a high at the end of January, before the general correction in utilities sparked a selloff.

Once again we're entering the "tail wagging the dog" territory, where the stock market determines business behavior instead of the other way around, like it's supposed to. The same thing happened leading up to the mortgage crisis, and you see where that got us. Due to the NC Utilities Commission's bent responsibility to ensure utilities remain "profitable," Duke Energy can legally argue that not allowing them to recover costs from ratepayers will bring down their stock values, thus hurting their overall profits. The fact that Duke's stock price was artificially inflated in anticipation of the NCUC's ruling will not even be mentioned, unless the public representative or somebody like NCWARN brings it up. That's no way to do the people's business.


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