Customers not liable for costs stemming from violations, criminal convictions
Statement by Executive Director Jim Warren:
Duke Energy has signaled to regulators and reporters that it will seek to bill customers an initial $5 billion for its coal ash negligence. Yesterday, NC WARN filed early comments with the NC Utilities Commission about the upcoming legal battle.
In short, we contend that Duke Energy shareholders must pay for all costs of coal ash cleanup because neither longstanding nor recent state laws allow Duke to raise customer rates to pay for costs resulting from unlawful activities, lawsuit settlements or criminal convictions.
Among the key elements of the filing by NC WARN attorney John Runkle:
- It is unfair for consumers to pay for decades of indifference or willful negligence by Duke Energy in its unwise decisions that allowed coal ash to proliferate in storage impoundments until an accident occurred. Customers in communities throughout North Carolina already have paid a high price for improper coal ash storage in ways that have harmed the environment and threatened their health and safety.
- The 2014 Coal Ash Management Act does not allow Duke Energy to lump all of the costs into “environmental compliance costs” and then automatically pass on all of its cleanup costs to ratepayers.
- It is clear that there were violations of water quality standards at all of the coal ash impoundments; this is what precipitated the subsequent court orders for cleanup efforts.
- If Duke Energy believed the closing of the coal ash basins is part of the life cycle of its coal plants, it should have phased the clean up over the past several decades rather than burden ratepayers with the rate shock of cleaning up all of its failures over a short time.
- The Commission should address the coal ash cleanup in a separate proceeding rather than in a rate case because of the complexity of the issues involving the potential multi-billion dollar cleanup.