Duke Energy says cost of converting coal ash ponds could top $10B

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RALEIGH, N.C. — It would cost as much as $10 billion and take as many as 30 years for Duke Energy to convert its handling of potentially toxic coal ash to a dry — and environmentally safer — handling method and to remove existing coal ash from its 33 waste ponds statewide, company officials said Tuesday.

On the low end, Duke’s estimate topped out at $2.5 billion to use a cap-in-place method that, according to conservationists, would not eliminate coal ash as a potential source of water contamination.

Duke customers, not shareholders, may end up paying for the cost.

Asked whether customers would carry the cost of coal-ash removal, Paul Newton, the president of Duke’s North Carolina operations, told reporters that the question would be better answered by the N.C. Utilities Commission, which regulates utility rates.

“The N.C. Utilities Commission and the S.C. Public Service Commission are regulators designed to answer cost issues. They are there to answer the issue of who pays what when,” Newton said after a meeting of a state legislative environmental panel here.

Conversely, Newton said during the panel meeting, Duke would pick up the cost of clean the Dan River of the sludge-like ash waste that its coal-fired power plant in Rockingham County spewed from a waste pond in February.

So far, the clean-up expense has come to $15 million.

All of the company’s waste ponds are in violation of state or federal clean-water laws, leaching or discharging potentially toxic heavy metals into surface water or groundwater.

A Wake County Superior Court judge has ruled that state law requires the immediate removal of sources of water contamination.

The meeting comes as state lawmakers prepare to draft legislation aimed at dealing with coal ash disposal.