Duke Energy

Coal Ash Wednesday: Here we go again

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Duke Energy wants increased rates to pay for coal ash cleanup:

Duke Energy is urging state regulators to approve rate increases at its two North Carolina electric utilities, including money to pay for cleanups of toxic coal ash.

Duke treasurer Karl Newlin told the North Carolina Utilities Commission Monday that if the company isn't allowed to recover coal ash cleanup costs, it could lead to a downgrade in its credit ratings and scare off investors. His testimony came during the first day of a public hearing on the proposed rate increases that are being conducted online.

Not to put too fine a point on it, that "credit ratings" scare tactic is a load of crap. But before I explain why, here's Lynn Good from their 2020 Q2 Earnings call:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Think of the children

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Because exposure to coal ash can be devastating to them:

Experimental research has demonstrated that fine and ultrafine particulate matter can pass directly through the nasal olfactory pathway into the circulatory system to the brain.18,19 In addition, research has shown when air pollution is cleared from the lungs it can enter the gut and exit the body via the gastrointestinal tract.20

Chronic exposure to air pollution and particulate matter has been found to cause chronic inflammation and elevated levels of cytokines throughout the body and brain.18,19 In addition, some of the metals in fly ash are neurotoxins,21-24 and exposure to neurotoxic heavy metals during rapid growth in the early stages of life can disrupt developmental processes and result in neurological dysfunction.17,24

Normally I would remove those reference numbers to make the reading easier, but it's good to occasionally give a nod to legitimate research. There's so much industry-funded nonsense out there (a lot of) people can't tell the difference anymore. Prior to the Clean Smokestacks Act of 2002, a heinous amount of the fly ash produced by coal combustion was escaping into the air, literally blanketing the state. But even with the new scrubbers in place these days, particulate matter from coal burning is still polluting our skies. And children are especially vulnerable:

Over a quarter of a million without power after storm

Making the Stay-At-Home situation considerably worse:

More than 276,000 people were without power Monday morning as severe storms continue their path across the state. Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, has the highest number of power outages — 46,253 as of 9 a.m., according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety. Wake County had more than 39,000 outages.

Severe weather moving across the state has brought risks of tornadoes, strong winds and hail to some areas, according to the National Weather Service. A tornado reportedly touched down in Orange County.

Don't usually do weather stories here, but a lot of folks are suffering right now. You can't cook (except maybe with a grill, but how much of your food is grillable?), and all those perishables in the fridge will start going bad before the sun goes down. And if you don't have a car charger for your phone, even that last vestige of 21st Century connectivity is doomed to failure with even limited usage. My heart goes out to these folks.

Coal Ash Wednesday: NCUC Public Staff opposes Duke rate hike request

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Continuing to profit from negligent behavior is wrong:

The Public Staff recommends denying Duke’s request to bill customers for $161 million in ash-related costs at its power plants. The agency also recommends collecting remaining expenses over 26 years instead of the five years that Duke proposes. Those steps, the agency says, would have the effect of evenly splitting the costs between shareholders and customers.

Duke “had a duty to comply with long-standing North Carolina environmental regulations, and it failed that duty many times over many years at every coal-fired power plant it owns in North Carolina,” a Public Staff official said in written testimony.

This has become an annual (if not semi-annual) battle, and frankly the NCUC needs to put its foot down. Duke Energy is a financial monster, the single largest utility in the Western Hemisphere. It pays healthy dividends to stockholders every quarter, and plans to spend about $37 Billion over the next four years on new acquisitions alone:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Erin Brockovich targets cancer clusters near Lake Norman

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And coal ash is emerging as the #1 suspect:

Brockovich says she's also concerned about records included in our Defenders investigation that for decades, Duke Energy sold coal ash to be used as construction fill for development projects. DEQ records show between 1995 and 2001, about 1 million cubic yards of coal ash was sold off and buried across the area – more than anywhere else in the state. And that total doesn’t even include smaller projects that state leaders admit were not documented at all.

“Really? You built a community on coal ash?" Brockovich said. "Why aren’t you doing testing? Is there some soil vapor plume, are we being exposed to it is it is blowing around in the wind and we’re inhaling it?”

Get that? Even if Duke Energy digs up all the ash at the Marshall Steam Station and secures it in lined pits, there's a million cubic yards of it in the ground, under neighborhoods, that nobody even knew existed. We're not just talking Hexavalent Chromium, you got Mercury, Arsenic, Selenium, and even radioactive elements in that mess. Testing needs to begin, like yesterday:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Hold on to your wallets

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Duke Energy looking to raise rates to pay for ash cleanup:

Duke argues that closing the ash basins, as state and federal rules now require, is part of its cost of doing business. That, it says, makes the company eligible to recover those costs by adding them to the electricity rates that consumers pay.

“We’re relying on the fair and well-established precedent in North Carolina that allows us to recover money that we spend to comply with environmental rules and regulations,” Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said. “We’ve managed coal ash properly for decades, so historically the Utilities Commission determined that those costs are recoverable and should be included in customer bills.”

Bolding mine, because damn. That is Trump-level nonsense right there. The Dan River coal ash spill dumped 46,594 cubic yards into the River, leaving at least a 2" layer of toxic ash on the river bottom for over 10 miles. Just to give you a reference on such volume, that amount of coal ash would fill 330 tractor-trailers. If that's managing coal ash "properly," I'd hate to see what mismanagement would do. Thankfully Josh Stein isn't under any delusions about Duke Energy's responsibilities:

SELC achieves record settlement on excavating coal ash

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The entire state owes them a debt of gratitude:

In a historic settlement SELC reached with Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality today, approximately 80 million tons of toxic coal ash at six Duke Energy coal ash sites are now slated for excavation.

Prior settlements and court orders required cleanups and excavation of 46 million tons of the toxic coal ash at eight other Duke Energy sites in North Carolina, and now the utility’s sites at its Allen, Belews Creek, Cliffside, Marshall, Mayo, and Roxboro facilities will be added to that list.

This is fantastic news, but we need to be cognizant of the next shoe that will drop: Rate increases associated with said cleanup. I'm not really speculating with this, Duke Energy is highly predictable, and will likely be pushing for another double-digit increase very soon. We will be watching.

After S559 is amended, Duke Energy pushes for rate increases

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There's more than one way to skin a ratepayer:

Duke Energy has asked state regulators to approve an average 12.3% rate increase for its division serving eastern North Carolina and the Asheville area. The filing Wednesday with the North Carolina Utilities Commission seeks an additional $464 million to pay for retiring coal plants, closing coal ash dumps, and improving the electric grid.

Duke says residential rates would rise an average 14.3%, if approved by regulators. A typical customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity monthly would pay about $17 more, or a total of about $138.

Don't let that "Ashevillle" area thing fool you; a healthy chunk of the people affected are not young urban professionals. Both Eastern and Western North Carolina suffer heavily from poverty, and this increase will push even more folks over that ledge. A higher electric bill *will* take food off the tables of many, especially those on a fixed income:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Chatham County ash pit leaking dangerous toxins

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Charah needs to answer some questions like yesterday:

State regulators have asked the operator of a Chatham County landfill where coal ash is being stored to come up with a plan to address high levels of toxic elements found in nearby water. The Brickhaven site near Moncure is a former clay mine that the state Department of Environmental Quality approved four years ago to be used as a lined landfill for coal ash being moved from unlined pits at Duke Energy power plants.

DEQ's Division of Waste Management sent a letter to Brickhaven operator Charah Inc. on Friday, noting that levels of barium, chloride, chromium, cobalt and vanadium were found at levels higher than state standards in various groundwater monitoring wells over time. In addition, high levels of arsenic, cobalt, copper, lead and zinc were found in nearby surface water.

In theory, the clay located at this particular site should have provided a good impermeable layer to block seepage. But generally speaking, when a mine is "played out," there's not enough (of whatever it is) left over to continue operating. Whatever the case, this just drives home the message that bottom liners are the only way to ensure leachate doesn't get into the groundwater. But thanks to decades of criminal negligence by coal plant operators, only 5% of the nation's ash pits have those liners:

Coal Ash Wednesday: A history of chronic spillage at Sutton Lake

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As usual, sedimentary deposits tell the tale:

"Our results clearly indicate the presence of coal ash at the bottom of Sutton Lake and suggest there have been multiple coal ash spills into the lake from adjacent coal ash storage facilities after, and even before, floodwaters from Hurricane Florence caused major flooding in 2018," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who led the research.

According to Vengosh and his colleagues from Duke and Appalachian State University, the amount of contaminants was more than what was found in streams following major coal ash spills in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008 and the Dan River in North Carolina in 2014.

Of course Duke Energy is spouting denials and rationalizations left and right, but Avner knows his stuff. This isn't an environmental advocacy org speaking, it's pure science:

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