Originally on WFAE 90.7

January 16, 2018

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is opposing Duke Energy's request to charge ratepayers for the costs of cleaning up its coal ash dumps around the state.  

In a 77-page filing Friday with the state utilities commission, Stein asks regulators to deny the rate hike request for the company's Duke Energy Progress territory, which covers eastern North Carolina and the Asheville area.  

Stein also wants the commission to reduce Duke's guaranteed profit from 9.9 percent to 8.48 percent.  

Duke wants to charge consumers about $200 million a year to clean up coal ash in ponds and landfills around its North Carolina plants. That request has brought opposition from consumers and environmental groups - and now from the attorney general. 

“Duke Energy has known that coal ash was going to be an issue since at least the 1990s, but the company didn’t deal with it. Now that it's more expensive for Duke to clean up its coal ash mess, it wants North Carolinians to pay the price. That's wrong, and that's why I oppose Duke's request to dramatically hike up our power bills," Stein said in a statement Tuesday.

Coal ash is the potentially toxic residue left after burning coal. For decades, Duke has stored it in ponds and mounds around its plants. It's in the process of closing the sites, some by removing the ash to new, lined landfills, and others by installing waterproof covers and leaving the ash in place.

Duke says coal ash and the cleanups are part of the cost of generating electricity, and customers should have to help pay. It also notes that it's reducing its reliance on coal - by retiring about half its coal-fired plants in the state in recent years and shifting to lower-cost and cleaner natural gas.

The issue also will come up in a separate rate hike case - for the company's Duke Energy Carolinas territory, which covers Charlotte and the western part of the state. Regulators will hold public hearings on that request starting Tuesday, with a hearing at 7 p.m. at the Macon County Courthouse in Franklin. Other hearings are scheduled Jan. 24 in Greensboro and Jan. 30 in Charlotte.

The commission will begin hearing formal testimony in the Duke Energy Carolinas rate hike Feb. 18 in Raleigh.