To the editor:
The assertion that “Duke took a risk” in storing ash in basins at the company’s two Person County plants and plants across the state for decades in your April 17 editorial is plain wrong. In fact, Duke used the same process and technology for storing coal ash as the vast majority of utility companies across the country (at more than 700 ash basins in the U.S.), and that storage was done under strict state permits designed to protect public health and the environment.
There is also an ongoing misconception that customers have paid for repairs and remediation of the ash release into the Dan River near Eden in 2014. In fact, Duke Energy shareholders have borne all of the expense associated with that cleanup. Customers have not, and will not, be asked to pay any portion of it.
What is at stake now, with the order from the Department of Environmental Quality, is the digging up and moving of tens of millions of tons of coal ash at six sites in North Carolina, including our plants on Hyco and Mayo lakes. Under this most extreme method of closing ash basins, pushed by the Southern Environmental Law Center and other groups, the total cost of excavation will grow by $4 billion to $5 billion, beyond the $5.6 billion previously estimated.
Here’s why that is important: We’ve been in the process of closing ash basins for several years now, and in 2017 and 2018 in rate proceedings, the N.C. Utilities Commission affirmed that the vast majority of coal ash-related expenses incurred to that point were appropriately recovered via customer rates.
Our proposal for closing ash basins at the six final sites in North Carolina was based on sound engineering and robust analysis. Importantly, we’ve conducted extensive water sampling around the ash basins, and that testing demonstrates that water quality is within strict standards designed to protect people and the environment.
Furthermore, the closure methods proposed are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, which deems those methods fully protective.
For decades, our customers in North Carolina have paid rates that are well below national and regional averages, and our coal-fired power plants have been a big part of that rate stability and advantage. Our goal, as always, is to continue to provide competitive rates for our customers and communities, while ensuring our operations are environmentally sound. Our proposed plan was a reflection of that commitment.
We have indicated our intention to appeal the DEQ’s decision because it adds significant cost for N.C. customers with no appreciable environmental benefit.
Editor’s note: The writer is vice president of community relations for Duke Energy. The length limit was waived to provide a full response to the editorial.