Duke Energy is asking its 730,000 South Carolina customers to pay for the first $1.5 million installment on what to date has become a $500 million coal-ash cleanup invoice.
The ratepayers would pick up the bill as part of Duke Energy Progress’ proposed (Docket No. 2016-196-E) $14.5 percent rate increase – of $79 million – in the Palmetto State, reports the local Charlotte Business Journal.
Duke Progress filed for the rate hike on July 13 with the South Carolina Public Service Commission (PSC) – denoting the first and only time that Duke has sought regulatory approval to charge customers for the costs of cleaning up the 34 coal ash ponds it has in the Carolinas, company spokesperson Ryan Mosier told the news outlet.
The issue of proper coal ash basin closure – to protect groundwater in the region – has been higher profile in North Carolina as a result of a February 2014 accident at a closed Duke plant that disgorged 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.
Environmentalists classified the 2014 spill as the third worst in U.S. history and contended that Duke had failed to acceptably maintain its coal ash ponds. Duke ultimately pleaded guilty to nine misdemeanor federal counts of violating environmental laws.
In South Carolina, the Charlotte Business Journal characterized the issue as not quite as volatile, but still of great concern – especially to commercial ratepayers.
Dukes Scott, head of the Office of Regulatory Staff –which represents the public interest of South Carolina in utility regulation for the major utility industries – told the newspaper that some of the industrial and large commercial users are worried about the ultimate costs of the cleanup. Duke estimated last year that final cost could be $3.5 billion across the six states it operates, but warned that the figures could still change.