For fans of transparency, and those interested in how Duke runs its coal plants, Friday's ruling could lead to a treasure-trove of information.
The coal ash spill on Feb. 2 put 39,000 tons of ash into the Dan River. Since then, Duke Energy has had other problems at other coal plants, and has been getting hammered in the court of public opinion. Friday, the energy giant got bad news in superior court as well.
"Well, it was total victory for us," said Frank Holleman, a senior lawyer at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Long before the Dan River spill happened, Holleman had his sights trained on Duke's coal plants. In fact, his group, the Southern Environmental Law Center, first sued last summer. As part of that, they asked for all Duke Energy's documents related to the coal ash facilities in Charlotte and Asheville.
Duke has tried to keep the records secret, which is what Friday was all about. Duke tried multiple arguments for why they should not have to release the records from their sheer number to the ongoing federal grand jury investigation into Duke's relationship with the state. Yet, the judge did not buy any of it -- ruling that the company does have to give Holleman what he asked for last August.
"We're looking for evidence of, what is the threat to the public? What's the nature of the pollution? How long has Duke known about it? What have they done to correct it, if anything," Holleman said. "I think some of that will be in those documents, I hope."
The judge did leave open a way for Duke to keep some documents confidential, but it will have to make each case, individually.
"They have to come up with a real reason why the public can't learn what's happening with the public's own natural resources," Holleman said.
Friday's ruling was just the latest bad news for Duke Energy. Two weeks ago, Judge Paul Ridgeway also ruled that Duke has to stop its illegal polluting at the source, which could mean having to dig out most, or all of its ash ponds. That would be expensive and Duke is fighting it. They are appealing Ridgeway's decision.