Duke Energy

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:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke Energy's self-regulating "research" is flawed

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Extracted from the 2017 4th quarter Executive Summary of the Allen Steam Station:

An update to the 2016 human health and ecological risk assessment was conducted. There is no evidence of unacceptable risk to humans and wildlife at Allen attributed to CCR constituent migration in groundwater from the ash basins. The only evidence of potential unacceptable human related risks estimated in the 2016 risk assessment was under the hypothetical subsistence fisherman scenario due to concentrations of cobalt in fish tissue. This risk assessment update supports that the fisher risks were overestimated based on conservative exposure (it is unlikely subsistence fishermen exist in the area) and modeled fish tissue uptake assumptions (modeled concentrations likely exceed actual fish tissue concentrations if measured), supporting a risk classification of “Low” based upon groundwater related considerations.

This is not research, it's rhetoric, carefully crafted to leave the reader confident there's nothing to worry about. The "cobalt in fish" thing is simply a red herring, if you'll pardon my use of a salt water species to drive home a point. If they reported they'd found nothing at all, people wouldn't believe them. So we get cobalt in fish, that nobody's going to eat anyway. Just an aside: Cobalt concentrations detected in at least three common species have been proven to reduce appetite, subsequently stunting growth in the fish affected. The truth is, there are several other toxins even worse than cobalt leaking from the Allen plant:

ICYMI: Duke Energy poisoning NC families

Duke Energy: Nothing to see here. No big deal.

Me: But we're talking about arsenic in ground water that's 15 times the acceptable level.

Duke Energy: A few people die. So what? Besides, our customers are to blame. If YOU didn't want electricity, we wouldn't have coal ash dumps. That's why we're making YOU pay to clean up our messes. Sounds fair, right?

Duke Energy threat: Action requested

Received via email:

Duke Energy has threatened a libel suit against NC WARN regarding our rate case evidence that the Charlotte-based giant uses more than $80 million annually to influence government officials, civic leaders, news media and the public – and that its monopoly-captive customers are forced to pay the bill. This comes after Duke’s witness – state president David Fountain – declined to provide explanation or evidence to counter our analysis.

Thinly veiled threats from Duke Energy over discovery of radioactive elements in groundwater

The unmitigated arrogance is breathtaking:

Duke Energgy spokeswoman Erin Culbert took issue with a recent press release from the Waterkeeper Alliance pointing out the high radium levels. She accused the “critic groups” of “drawing conclusions at this early stage to simply use this milestone to advance their agenda.”

“They seek to sign up North Carolinians for the most extreme, most disruptive and most expensive way to close basins, Culbert continued. “That’s not prudent for the environment, communities or families’ energy bills.”

Bolding mine. In a nutshell, she's trying to shift the blame for future higher energy bills from the party responsible for contaminating the water (Duke Energy) onto the shoulders of those who are working diligently to keep people safe from such irresponsible behavior. It doesn't get much more sleazy than that. It's like blaming the person who called 911 about a neighbor's house being on fire. And make no mistake, this particular house fire is out of control:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke Energy pockets $231 million from Trump's tax scam

And that's just for the last three months of 2017:

Electric Utilities and Infrastructure recognized fourth quarter 2017 segment income of $826 million, compared to $483 million in the fourth quarter of 2016. In addition to the drivers outlined below, fourth quarter 2017 results were impacted by a $231 million benefit related to the Tax Act and a $14 million after-tax charge related to regulatory settlements. These amounts were treated as special items and excluded from
adjusted earnings.

On an adjusted basis, Electric Utilities and Infrastructure recognized fourth quarter 2017 adjusted segment income of $609 million, compared to $483 million in the fourth quarter of 2016, an increase of $0.18 per share.

A couple of clarifications: That net $826 million is from all utilities, not just those actually operating in North Carolina. But that was "netted" from about $3.2 billion dollars in revenues, for the 4th Quarter alone. And one of the best ways to judge just how profitable a company is, you need to look at stockholders' dividend payments:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit against Duke Energy

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When you have yet to clean up your mess, but still want to go outside and play:

A Duke Energy lawyer told a trio of judges on the state Court of Appeals the lawsuit filed by the state's environmental protection agency and joined by conservation groups should be dismissed. Coal ash, the residue left after decades of burning coal to generate power, can contain toxic materials like arsenic and mercury.

The company was in court in part because Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway has refused to dismiss the lawsuit. Ridgeway has indicated he would review the remediation plan the state Department of Environmental Quality approves, then decide independently whether the agency is requiring enough from Duke Energy to clean up the pollution, Long said.

It's no coincidence this legal gambit is taking place 13 days before Duke Energy's first substantial hearing on their massive rate hike request before the NC Utilities Commission. That case contains many "findings of fact" on Duke Energy's negligence in coal ash management, and if they can make that go away, it will strengthen their argument for a rate increase while severely weakening the opposition to it. And just to give a voice to those who will be adversely affected by this unreasonable action:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke's attorneys go on the attack as hearings wind down

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Also claiming unlined pits were once considered a "feature" and not recklessly negligent:

Duke Energy blasted its opponents in a final regulatory filing Friday, saying they leaned on "simplistic crutches," false analysis and a Pollyanna hindsight to argue against the company's bid to raise electricity rates enough to cover clean up costs at the company's coal ash ponds.

The company complied with existing laws and industry standards when it left wet ash in unlined pits for decades, they said. At one point "the lack of a liner was considered a feature, rather than a flaw" because soil would filter out contaminants, the company said. Impact on groundwater wasn't initially a concern "because the ash basins were built more than a decade before the adoption of any federal or state regulation related to groundwater corrective action," attorneys argued.

Here's a quick primer for those who may not be aware how environmental statutes and regulations come into being: There is (or has been) usually a period of 10-20 years where contamination is discovered, investigated, then viciously fought-over in civil court, before the demands for government regulation grow to the point some rule or law is put into place to stop it. And during that pre-regulation phase, you can be damned sure attorneys for companies like Duke Energy were well aware of what was going on, and what needed to be done to improve those impoundments. Luckily for us, Josh Stein isn't drinking their arsenic-tainted Kool-Aid, and his legal opposition is definitely not pro-forma:

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