Duke Energy

On the grid vs off the grid: A successful Solar revolution includes both

In the last few years, I've had numerous conversations with various people on renewable energy generation. And most of them, even those with much more technical savvy than I have, were missing some critical pieces of the puzzle in their understanding of the rapid growth of Solar in North Carolina and elsewhere. In example, here's a paraphrased conversation from a few months ago:

Coal Ash Wednesday: When science is declared "secret"

Duke Energy's damage control methods are out of control:

Duke Energy is asking a federal judge to make the sworn statements of a state environmental toxicologist off-limits to the public amid an ongoing lawsuit between environmentalists and the energy company over coal ash.

In a motion filed in a North Carolina U.S. District Court Tuesday, Duke Energy argued the deposition of Dr. Kenneth Rudo is "largely hearsay" and that releasing publicly would affect the firm's right to a fair and impartial trial. Company lawyers point to the heavy media attention surrounding coal ash cleanup and contamination, which has drawn the concern of nearby well owners who have received mixed safety advice from the state about their water.

First of all, the public's right to know about contaminated water resources trumps Duke Energy's desire to keep their mistakes hidden. And second, media coverage had absolutely nothing to do with "mixed safety advice" given to affected residents. The amount of influence Duke Energy wields over state government is what caused that mixed advice, another negative consequence of that damage control I mentioned above. And now you can add suborning justice to Duke's "portfolio."

In addition to pollution, Duke Energy now leaking propaganda

Disseminating Koch Brothers' subsidized misinformation:

Coal ash isn’t toxic, in fact it’s harmless, according a new report that Duke Energy has been disseminating this week. But a Carolina Public Press investigation has found serious doubts about the credibility of the report that relies heavily on the statements of one scientist who may have been misquoted or taken out of context.

Claiming that toxicity isn’t a valid a concern hasn’t been an angle the company pursued previously. Carolina Public Press contacted the scientist on whom the article relied for its claims. His response raised questions about the integrity of the reporting in the article from the organization Watchdog.org and why Duke Energy would promote an article with such dubious claims.

Okay, so: "Toxicity" determinations are directly tied to how a chemical or element interacts with a biological organism. You can determine the radioactivity of an element in the absence of such, but toxicity can only be formally mapped by actual damage, a much more difficult process. And since many of these potential toxins do not bioaccumulate, and are eventually expelled from the human body before they can be detected, the "smoking gun" is no longer there to find. This is what (I believe) the researcher in question was trying to convey. But what's more alarming than Duke Energy citing a Watchdog.org article in efforts to whitewash their dirty laundry, are the efforts by state government to bully media outlets into silencing the NRDC:

Duke Energy parrots squawk about saving people money

Van der Vaart is still confused about what his job really is:

This bill says Duke can seek permission to leave ash where it is, if it repairs dams and reduces other risks at its coal ash basins - something environmentalists oppose.

“The new coal ash law establishes a firm timetable for providing permanent water connections and repairing dams at coal ash ponds,” DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart said in a statement. “It also protects customers by allowing for less expensive methods of closing coal ash ponds that won’t be passed on in the form of higher electricity prices.”

The fact van der Vaart is even talking about economics should scare the bejesus out of people in our state, and it should also be a source of major concern for the General Assembly. But there's little doubt their decision to let go of the Coal Ash Commission was at least partly an effort to suck up to the campaign contribution behemoth known as Duke Energy. It's like watching a couple of academically-challenged football players trying to impress the Homecoming Queen, only less amusing. And the fact this development came just one month after a real scientific assessment exposed the depth and breadth of the problem is even less amusing:

Scathing editorial on Duke Energy's control of NC government

Usually more circumspect, the Fay-O cuts loose:

In the end, Duke Energy won the Great Coal Ash War. Is anyone surprised? No, we weren't either. In a state whose governor was a longtime employee of the nation's largest utility, and whose lawmakers benefit from the company's contributions, the outcome of the battle over cleanup of Duke's 33 coal-ash impoundments was pretty predictable.

Frank Holleman, senior lawyer at the Southern Environmental Law Center, got it about right when he said, "The legislature has done what Duke Energy's lobbyists told it to do, threw thousands of public comments in the trash can, and protected Duke Energy while sacrificing the well-being of North Carolina's clean water and communities."

Like many bills that make their way through the Legislature, this one (HB630) makes modifications to previous legislation, so the bulk of the text is old news. You have to look for the struck-out and/or underlined text to see what's being changed. While lawmakers did remove the Coal Ash Commission that was the subject of McCrory's successful lawsuit and recent complaints, here's the (big) money quote in this new bill:

Dukeville residents riding see-saw of drinking water advisories

When Hexavalent Chromium is your nosiest neighbor:

Originally, state health officials used a level of 0.07 parts per billion as the health screening level for hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing heavy metal. That health screening level turned up dozens of unsafe water wells in Dukeville. Later, the state sharply raised the screening level to 10 parts per billion. However, state regulators in March told coal ash neighbors with hexavalent chromium levels higher than 10 parts per billion that their well water was OK to drink.

It doesn't get much more negligent than that: Raise the threshold almost 150 times higher, then ignore your own new level. These people need help right now, and forcing them to wait for a year is beyond irresponsible:

Coal Ash Wednesday: SELC statement on HB 630

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Kneeling at the altar of Duke Energy:

The following is a statement by Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center regarding the latest Duke Energy Bailout Bill, HB 630, that came out of closed doors today and is moving quickly through the North Carolina legislature:

“Following closed door meetings, the North Carolina Senate today moved to change state law to delay and provide Duke Energy loopholes to avoid coal ash cleanups. This coal ash bill is damning proof that the families and communities of North Carolina can’t rely on state politicians to protect their drinking water supplies from Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution."

Per Kirk Ross, the total time given to discuss this bill in both committee and on the floor of the Senate was less than half an hour, for some 33 pages. Which I find ironic as hell considering how often Duke Energy whines about "needing more time" to assess the situation. When they need more time, they get it. When our duly elected representatives need more time to study 33 pages of legislation, that time is simply not available. It's a pretty clear message of who owns the House and Senate. The rest of the statement:

Coal Ash Wednesday: To Commission or not to Commission

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Another battle between McCrory and the Legislature seems imminent:

Senate Bill 71 gives the governor the five of the seven appointments to the Coal Ash Management Commission and creates new quorum rules to ensure that legislative members can't work without cooperating with the governor's appointees. "The governor's appointments will always be in charge," McGrady said.

But the bill also requires the lawmakers to confirm gubernatorial appointments and limits the reasons for which members of the commission can be removed. "Let's don't relive history here," Stephens told Rules Committee members, saying that the bill would not give McCrory adequate control of the commission. "My message to you is that all three of those commissions are unconstitutional and will be challenged."

It's plain to anybody with half a brain the Executive Branch (including DEQ) is riddled with conflicts of interest associated with Duke Energy, and needs to be under some form of oversight. That being said, I'm not sure the Legislature or the NCUC is any better. I fear Duke Energy may have an entire stable full of stalking horses of different government breeds, and putting faith in any one of them is naive at best. But Chuck McGrady's work with the Sierra Club was exemplary, and I do believe he is a genuine environmentalist, regardless of his other conservative traits. If he's going to be directly involved in the (new) Commission's creation and operation, go ahead and bring it.

Coal Ash Wednesday: More lawsuits on the way

Playing the game of risk:

Spokespeople from basin owner Duke Energy and the Southern Environmental Law Center talked with Carolina Public Press earlier this month about their desired outcomes. Both indicated an expectation that their employers would consider legal action if DEQ doesn’t give them what they want. Since what each side wants is the opposite of what the other side seeks, litigation seems unavoidable.

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