I was taken aback by Duke Energy’s insinuation in a May 12 News & Record op-ed that the company’s customers are culpable in its decisions to manage coal ash improperly for the last several decades. To argue that customers need to pay up now because they benefited from the inexpensive power Duke’s coal plants generated implies that customers somehow knew that Duke was eschewing prudent storage methods.
Likewise, Duke’s assessment that the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s order to excavate coal ash is “extreme” is a view shared by, well, no one. Duke is alone in this perspective. Furthermore, the notion that Duke is appealing the decision to save customers money is disingenuous. First, customers should not be billed for cleanup costs. It’s Duke’s error, for which shareholders should pay. Second, customers would be penalized by Duke’s inaction, paying far higher costs for a cleanup project than for what should have been ongoing maintenance.
The utility does not hesitate to request rate increases for all manner of projects and could have raised rates to manage coal ash at the time. Duke Energy should accept accountability for its actions, comply with the state’s order, absorb cleanup costs, and make sure that it handles this and all other operational issues prudently moving forward.