Duke Energy

Coal Ash Wednesday: To Commission or not to Commission

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Another battle between McCrory and the Legislature seems imminent:

Senate Bill 71 gives the governor the five of the seven appointments to the Coal Ash Management Commission and creates new quorum rules to ensure that legislative members can't work without cooperating with the governor's appointees. "The governor's appointments will always be in charge," McGrady said.

But the bill also requires the lawmakers to confirm gubernatorial appointments and limits the reasons for which members of the commission can be removed. "Let's don't relive history here," Stephens told Rules Committee members, saying that the bill would not give McCrory adequate control of the commission. "My message to you is that all three of those commissions are unconstitutional and will be challenged."

It's plain to anybody with half a brain the Executive Branch (including DEQ) is riddled with conflicts of interest associated with Duke Energy, and needs to be under some form of oversight. That being said, I'm not sure the Legislature or the NCUC is any better. I fear Duke Energy may have an entire stable full of stalking horses of different government breeds, and putting faith in any one of them is naive at best. But Chuck McGrady's work with the Sierra Club was exemplary, and I do believe he is a genuine environmentalist, regardless of his other conservative traits. If he's going to be directly involved in the (new) Commission's creation and operation, go ahead and bring it.

Coal Ash Wednesday: More lawsuits on the way

Playing the game of risk:

Spokespeople from basin owner Duke Energy and the Southern Environmental Law Center talked with Carolina Public Press earlier this month about their desired outcomes. Both indicated an expectation that their employers would consider legal action if DEQ doesn’t give them what they want. Since what each side wants is the opposite of what the other side seeks, litigation seems unavoidable.

Utilities Commission levies excessive fine against NC WARN

Doing the dirty work for Duke Energy:

The N.C. Utilities Commission fined the group $60,000 and ordered it to stop the sales immediately and turn the solar project over to the Faith Community Church.

“NC WARN’s electric sales to the public (the Church) is impermissible due to the fact that the Church is located within a service area that has been assigned exclusively to Duke,” the commission says in its order released late Friday afternoon. “NC WARN knowingly entered into a contract to sell electricity in a franchised area and sold electricity without prior permission from the commission subjecting itself to sanctions.”

Make no mistake, this "order" is designed to bring NC WARN down; to destroy this nonprofit that has served as a balancing and oversight agent to keep the NCUC's dealings with Duke Energy honest, or at least not outrageously dishonest. NC WARN has saved us a ton of money by getting rate increase requests by Duke Energy reduced, and it appears they may need your support now more than ever.

Duke Energy pushing its "cap and leak" plan vigorously

And contaminating the editorial pages in the process:

Both capping and excavation closure approaches provide similar benefits to groundwater, and a spectrum of options is available to enhance its protection if needed. Excavation is not necessary to protect groundwater, though it may be selected for other technical reasons.

This drives us to look at solutions from both a statewide perspective and from the perspective of the individual community. In many respects, closing basins on plant property with a protective cap better protects the local and broader environment.

There's no doubt the whole purpose of this science-deprived sales pitch was to soften people up to prepare them for what is to come; the majority of leaking coal ash ponds are merely going to be capped in place. This also explains the DEQ's flip-flop back in late 2015 to classify most sites as "low-risk." If we lived in a two-dimensional world, it might work. But we don't, and groundwater easily penetrates the sides of an unlined landfill, and carries those contaminants with it into streams, lakes, and groundwater aquifers. Just ask the people in this Montana township if you're still skeptical:

DEQ's haphazard approach to coal ash regulation

Their method for assessing risk creates a high risk for our state:

Coal ash pits at Duke’s 14 power plants have already contaminated groundwater, and just last Friday (March 4), DEQ issued notices of violation to Duke for allowing coal ash wastewater to leak from its pits at 12 power plants across the state. Unfortunately, NC’s Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA), which creates requirements and timelines for the closure of coal ash pits, allows Duke to put a cap on pits that receive a “low-risk” rating. Duke could leave coal ash where it is, threatening groundwater, presumably forever.

DEQ failed to determine draft ratings for ash pits at six of Duke’s facilities by its December 31, 2015 deadline: Rogers (formerly Cliffside), Roxboro, Allen, Buck, Belews Creek, and Marshall. Instead, the agency rated coal ash pits at these sites as “low-to-intermediate.” Coal ash pits at these sites will eventually receive a rating of either “low” or “intermediate” risk. DEQ says that public comments will influence its decisions, and that even ratings of “intermediate” and “low” risk are subject to change based on public input.

Okay, I'm glad to see DEQ's interest in public feedback. That being said, classifying the risk levels of coal ash ponds based on subjectivity (the number of people who show up and their personal opinions) is just one more deviation from scientific analysis. And it provides the cover for DEQ to conclude whatever the hell they feel like. Nearly all of these sites in question just got spanked for leaking, so the question of risk has already been answered by DWQ:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke Energy's fine is laughable

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It's all about the context:

While these latest fines might seem steep to those of us who are not huge utility companies, Duke Energy has assets of $120.7 billion. Six and a half million is loose change to Duke, a company whose CEO made $10.5 million the year after the coal-ash spill — a $2.5 million raise from the year before. And even the $102 million Duke agreed to pay the feds is hardly enough to clean up the damage the company caused. As ThinkProgress points out, a study from last year “estimated the ecological, recreational, aesthetic, and human health damages from the spill totaled $295,485,000. And that study looked at only the first six months after the spill, meaning the total damage could end up being higher.”

It's also important to remember: Duke Energy's "cleanup" from the Dan River spill only removed a fraction of the volume of toxic coal ash released into the river, leaving over 90% of the mess where it came to rest. The only thing that's harder to calculate than the total environmental damage done by Duke Energy is the amount of influence they wield in state government and the conflicts of interest generated by their political spending:

Duke Energy will request rate hikes for coal ash disposal

Because every step they take is a money-making opportunity:

"But we will do everything we can to keep cost impacts as manageable as possible in any potential cost recovery filing that we might make in the future," Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said in an email.

The company said excavating and reburying the coal ash in lined landfills could cost as much as $10 billion. That's more than Duke Energy spent to scrap a quarter of its coal-burning power capacity and open 10 new natural gas and coal plants in North Carolina, Florida and Indiana since 2009, the company said.

And now comes the economic coercion: If you force us to do what we should have done in the first place, bury this toxic mess in lined pits, we will make you pay for it yourselves. Besides, we have better things to do with our profits than fix our own mistakes with it:

Duke Energy-funded "advisory board" recommends they not spend billions relocating coal ash

How can you afford advisory boards if you spend all that money?

An advisory board created by Duke Energy says all of the company’s coal ash ponds in North Carolina can safely be capped in place.

When asked by the Charlotte Business Journal about possible criticism that the Advisory Board is “bought and paid for” by Duke Energy, Daniels said: “All these reports have been submitted, signed and sealed by professional engineers and scientists… They are professionals, and that matters more than who they are working for.”

The first thing that popped into my head reading that declaration of professionalism was the Bush quote "Tribal sovereignty means that; it's sovereign. I mean, you're a -- you've been given sovereignty, and you're viewed as a sovereign entity." Just because you're a professional it doesn't mean you're not prone to bias or withholding information that could be damaging to your clients. Lawyers are professionals too, and "who they are working for" is a consideration that eclipses all others, including the truth.

Utilities Commission rules stifle public input on new Duke facility

Your layman's point of view is not wanted:

Speakers will have to be sworn in. Although that’s not unheard of at some local-government meetings in which a commission, board or council must vote to open a quasi-judicial proceeding, the implications of it for the Utilities Commission hearing could be different. Testimony under oath is expected to be truthful. Unlike many local boards, testimony to the utility commission would be subject to cross-examination. A person who testified about anything other than their own opinions should be prepared to have their factual claims challenged during cross-examination.

Being placed under oath begs the question of consequences for untruthful testimony. While there’s no precedent for charging someone with offering false testimony at a hearing of this type, in theory someone who swore to tell the truth and then knowingly bore false witness could face prosecution for perjury.

While I understand the need for quasi-judicial proceedings in many cases, the Utilities Commission should not be so insulated. They allow only one voice (Executive Director of the Public Staff) to represent the people, and that representation is already filtered and edited by the time it reaches the ears of the NCUC. They're operating in a safe little bubble, and that is not conducive to public service. And that public deserves the right to speak, without the aura of legal consequences if some of their words can be disputed as "false testimony."

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke Energy's new PR firm

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DEQ's "damage control" unit defends revised classifications:

State regulators say that a controversial early draft of classifications for Duke Energy’s (NYSE:DUK) coal-ash ponds in North Carolina was largely based on incomplete dam safety information and lacking key data about groundwater and soil conditions at the sites.

And the early draft leaned heavily on dam safety information that Rusher says was out of date. “Later, dam safety considerations were updated to include current and future structural repairs that would remove the threat that the dam presented to the environment and public safety,” he says. “Early versions of any draft documents during the development of the draft classifications are incomplete and are not inclusive of the most current data and information that was collectively considered.”

Bolding mine. These classifications are meant to describe the current condition of the dams, not some "forward-looking" statement for investors. A problem isn't fixed until it's fixed. And considering Duke Energy's history of negligence in dam safety, any promises they made to repair these dams is seriously in question:

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