Image: Reuters/Chris Keane

Duke Energy faces a $1 billion price tag to clean its coal ash waste pits in North Carolina after the company leaked around 35 million gallons of toxic coal slurry into the Dan River last month. Who will pay the bill? Customers, says Duke’s CEO.

Duke, the largest supplier of electricity in the United States, was ordered by a judge late last week to address groundwater contamination at its 33 coal ash storage lagoons at 14 sites across North Carolina. The decision came about one month after as much as 35 million gallons of coal ash and arsenic-contaminated water spilled into the Dan River due to a ruptured pipe at a Duke Energy power plant in Eden, North Carolina.

Based on a similar effort in South Carolina – in which Santee Cooper utility needed $250 million to clear 11 million tons of ash – Duke’s expenses to empty its ash sites could hit $1 billion, according to the state Utilities Commission. Duke has around 106 million total tons of coal ash waste in the state, 84 million of which were dumped into simple ponds, likely resulting in ground contamination.

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good said the company will carry costs for cleaning the Dan River, around 70 miles of which is now caked with toxic coal waste. But as for the cleaning of the remaining sites, Good says it’s part of normal consumer costs.

“Because that ash was created over decades for the generation of electricity, we do believe that ash-pond disposal costs are ultimately part of our cost structure,” Good told the Charlotte Observer on Friday. “But the determination of payment will be up to the North Carolina Utilities Commission and how they handle that, so I think that’s something that will unfold over time.”

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