Who pays for Duke Energy's coal ash cleanup? NC Supreme Court weighs in - sort of
High court sends key issue back before state regulators, leaving some on both sides of a long-running dispute to claim victory.Posted — Updated
Environmental groups, which partnered with Stein on the issue, said they were disappointed and that the ruling's finer points may mean higher costs for customers.
"We think this likely leads to a place where customers are going to be paying millions of dollars, potentially billions of dollars, for Duke's coal ash cleanup," said Dave Rogers, southeast deputy regional director for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
The court also signed off on a 2018 increase in Duke Energy Carolina's base electricity rates – what residential customers pay before they use any electricity. That will stay at $14 month, a blow for advocacy groups who fought the rate on behalf of low-income customers.
In a statement, Stein called the Supreme Court's decision "a major win for electricity consumers on coal ash cleanup costs."
"The court reversed a Utilities Commission order that required North Carolinians to pay nearly all of the cost of cleaning up Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution," Stein said. "The court sent the case back to the commission to consider a proposal to require Duke and its shareholders to bear more of those costs."
But reconsideration doesn't guarantee an outcome, and the court decision says Duke can recover those costs. The company said in its own statement that the ruling represents "a positive step forward by affirming that our coal ash management practices are a prudent part of supplying customers with reliable electricity."
"We are pleased that the court affirmed the North Carolina Utilities Commission’s decision that it is appropriate to recover these costs," the company said.
The commission also charged the company a $100 million mismanagement fee as it approved passing nearly $780 million in pass-along charges for customers.
Stein's office was one of several entities that appealed the Utilities Commission's decision to the Supreme Court, and the attorney general said Friday that he looks forward to "continuing to fight at the commission to keep you from having to bear an unfair share of Duke’s coal ash costs.”
Newby is likely the court's next chief justice, having won a close race against Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, assuming his victory holds up in an ongoing recount. He said in his dissent that he would have left the Utility Commission's decision to pass along coal ash costs in place, saying the commission "considered all the evidence and chose not to assess further penalties, other than the $100,000,000 that it had already imposed."
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