Duke Energy wants to pass coal-ash cleanup costs to you

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Duke Energy argues customers paying for coal-ash cleanup is no different than disposing of old tires.

The country's largest electric company said charging North Carolina consumers the full, multi-billion-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 radials.

Duke Energy Progress President David Fountain said Monday the Duke Energy Corp. subsidiary is simply passing along clean-up costs that regulators have dictated.

He spoke at the opening day of hearings before the North Carolina Utilities Commission on whether the company can raise power rates by an average 9.5 percent. Duke Energy Progress wants to charge North Carolina consumers an extra $305 million a year.

Monday, lawyers for Duke Energy and counsel for consumer advocacy groups met before the North Carolina Utilities Commission to discuss Duke Energy's proposed rate increase.

The hike would lead consumers paying an additional $11-$20 per month on their current bill.

"People are really concerned whether or not they'll be able to afford the type of rate increase the company is asking for," said AARP associate state director Steve Hahn. "We think Duke needs to be able to provide reliable services, but we feel it should be fair and reasonable ... the added service charge is something the company doesn't need."

The state's official utilities consumer advocate thinks the company shouldn't pass along nearly $200 million a year to clean up decades worth of potentially toxic coal ash.

A Duke Energy spokesperson said Monday the rate-hike request isn't based on coal-ash cleanup.

"(The Dan River coal ash spill) was an unfortunate accident that did occur and we took responsibility for that and those costs will never be passed to consumers," said Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks. "We have to contrast that with the normal operations of providing power every day ... and those types of costs are typically costs that are included in customer bills."

Jim Warren with watchdog group NC Warn disagreed with Brooks and said he believes the company is planning to hurt the environment in their intent to use cleaner energy.

"Duke Energy is going head-on in the wrong direction, both in terms of the climate and the public health, and the economics of people's power bills," Warren told ABC11. "The people of North Carolina are not in a winning situation in this case."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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