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Coal Ash in NC: Debate Over What Makes Sense and Cents

Photo: Coal ash residue is visable along the banks of the Dan River, the site of the February spill in Eden, N.C. Courtesy: Waterkeeper Alliance
Photo: Coal ash residue is visable along the banks of the Dan River, the site of the February spill in Eden, N.C. Courtesy: Waterkeeper Alliance
May 1, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – State officials say power bills in North Carolina could go up as much as $20 a month and the increase would have nothing to do with power usage.

Instead, it would foot the bill for the $10 billion cleanup of Duke Energy's North Carolina coal ash ponds, if that is what the state ultimately requires of the utility.

Today, hundreds of people are expected to gather outside of the Duke Energy shareholders' meeting in Charlotte to demand the company dig into its own pocket.

Kara Dodson, field coordinator with Appalachian Voices, says the utility – which made $50 billion in profits last year – can afford it.

"If it's $10 billion spread out over 10 years, that's only 2 percent of their profits, so the math shows that they're capable of doing this, and it's also the right thing to do," Dodson explains.

Large numbers of demonstrators are expected today outside the Duke shareholders' meeting and the city is planning extra police presence.

Duke says coal ash will be discussed at the meeting today, in part prompted by the ongoing Dan River spill, which began in February.

State Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro first introduced legislation regulating coal ash in 2009, but it did not pass. And she's introduced it every year since then without success – thanks in part, she says, to Duke's protests.

"They've been spending a lot of money lobbying against any regulations,” Harrison points out. “That money could have been going towards the cost of cleaning up coal ash, rather than fighting regulations that require the cleanup of coal ash."

Harrison says she is working with her Democratic colleagues on a bill to be introduced in the short session that would direct the Public Utilities Commission to deny any request by Duke to raise rates to pay for the cleanup.

Dodson says she and others present outside of Duke's headquarters today want the company to look inward for financing.

"This is a shareholder meeting, and it needs to be brought up that pollution should be handled by the company's shareholders and this is their cost," she says.

There are currently 14 coal ash disposal sites in the state.

Earlier this month, Gov. Pat McCrory announced his desire to retire the ponds, but has made no mention of how that would be funded.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC