Charging North Carolina consumers the full, multibillion-dollar cost of cleaning up coal ash dumps is comparable to tire stores charging customers an extra fee to dispose of an old set of wheels, a Duke Energy Corp. executive said Monday.
Duke Energy Progress, the corporation's eastern North Carolina operating subsidiary, is simply passing along clean-up costs that regulators have dictated, and shouldn't have to ding shareholders for a chunk of the $2.6 billion bill as consumer advocates want, executive David Fountain said.
It's the main issue as the subsidiary opened days of hearings into whether the North Carolina Utilities Commission will allow it to raise power rates by an average 9.5 percent, charging its North Carolina consumers an extra $305 million a year.
The state's official utilities consumer advocate, the Public Staff, thinks the company shouldn't pass along nearly $200 million a year to clean up decades worth of potentially toxic coal ash. The request has met stiff consumer opposition.
Duke Energy argues both of its North Carolina subsidiaries should be allowed to pass along the full bill for coal ash cleanup to consumers as part of the routine cost tied to burning coal to deliver low-cost electricity.
"We are, for the benefit of our customers, managing our coal ash basin closure in ways that are environmentally compliant," said Fountain, Duke Energy Progress's president. "Those are all environmental compliance costs that we're seeking cost recovery for because those costs were incurred in a reasonable and prudent manner."
But a lawyer representing manufacturing companies that are heavy electricity users said Fountain's comparison breaks down because the company wants to charge customers now for a problem that's built up over generations.