Apr 29, 2014

Moving Duke toxic coal ash ponds would take 30 years, cost $7 to $10 billion

A top Duke Energy executive told lawmakers last week that moving coal-ash ponds away from drinking-water supplies would cost $7 to $10 billion and would take 30 years, John Murawski reports for the Raleigh News & Observer. The company and its stockholders said they will pay the cost to clean up the 39,000 tons of coal-ash sludge that leaked into the Dan River from a Feb. 2 spill but say customers should foot the bill to move the 14 locations, as critics have demanded. (McClatchy Tribune graphic)

A state regulator estimated that customers could expect to see their bills increase by more than $20 a month. Duke officials have countered with a cheaper option that would cost $2 billion to $2.5 billion and leave the coal ash in place at most sites. Under that option, "the coal ash would be air-dried, left in place and covered with a tarpaulin or membrane," Murwaski writes.

Chris Ayers, executive director of Public Staff, the state agency that represents the public in utility-rate cases, "noted that a North Carolina utility's environmental compliance costs are typically included in customers' rates. He said it was too early to tell if the Public Staff would challenge Duke's proposed costs, which the company would have to demonstrate are prudent and reasonable," Murawski writes. "Ayers told lawmakers that Duke could not be held to an environmental standard that did not exist when the pits were constructed a half-century ago."

"Under state law, Duke's coal ash remediation plan will require approval from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources," Murawski writes. "But the cost of that plan is in the hands of the N.C. Utilities Commission, which would review Duke's expenses after the company spent the money." (Read more)

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