In a galling an arrogant presentation Duke Energy president Paul Newton told North Carolina lawmakers that "removing all of the company's coal ash away from the state's rivers and lakes would take decades and cost up to $10 billion," nearly all of which would be paid for by electricity customers. Duke Energy to lawmakers: Moving toxic coal ash costs too much
In a presentation to a state legislative committee, Duke's North Carolina president Paul Newton suggested the company needs flexibility to consider more cost-efficient options. The company's proposal is to remove the coal ash from unlined dumps at four of its power plants, but then leave much of what is stored at 10 other sites in place after covering it with plastic and soil.
Environmental groups are calling for new legislation requiring Duke to move all of its coal ash to lined landfills away from waterways following the massive Feb. 2 spill from a collapsed pipe in Eden that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge.
State officials say all of Duke's 33 unlined dumps at 14 coal-fired power plants scattered across the state are oozing out contaminants into groundwater. All told, Duke has more than 100 million tons of the ash, which contains potentially harmful chemicals including arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium.
While the company said it will pay for for the recent spill cleanup it may ask regulators to raise consumer's electric rates for any additional costs of cleaning up its other sites.
To help illustrate the potential challenge and expense of moving all the company's ash, Newton showed a graphic of what it would take to clear out the 22 million pounds stored at the Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman, near Charlotte. If workers hauled away a dump truck full every three minutes for 12 hours a day, six days a week, Newton said it would take 30 years to remove all the ash from just that one facility.
Duke energy is a Fortune 500 company whose profits last year were $2.7 billion dollars. An alternative proposal for mismanaged and improperly disposed of coal ash which seems to have been going on at least since 1950, if not well before, from what I can gather, would be to garnish the next 4 years of profits.
Duke Energy has made no compelling argument for why North Carolina's electric customers should have to bear the responsibility for whatever combination of incompetence or malfeasance was the root causes of this disaster.
Those who quote comparative energy economic statistic to assert coals relatively inexpensive generation cost compared to solar, wind, geothermal, tidal and other renewable energy see here an example of what are called "external costs." Those real costs to society of a product or service which are not included in its market price.
Without even trying to quantify the unimaginable cost of the human suffering and just pure economic costs we face in the next century due to the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, and without even trying to quantify just the economic cost of the toxic chemicals caused by such as harmful chemicals including arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium, and carcinogenic hydrocarbons effluents, or the loss in land values, just the uncounted cost of properly disposing of the left over coal ash is $10 billion and 3 decades of time by Duke Energy's estimate.
How long will it take for them to go back and revise all their comparative economic analyses of the relative cost/benefit ratios of continuing to burn fossil fuels versus readily available renewable energy alternatives?
It is easy for me, Duke Energy, and proponents of fossil fuel burning to put aside all of the above mention "externalities" for the moment, in my case for the above rhetorical point, however, the overwhelming conclusion of the scientific community is that we must significantly reduce our burning of fossil fuel in the next two decades. Not just slow the growth of adding new ones, but reduce the number we have now.
We are going to need a new attitude and a new aggressiveness not seen so far. Ericlewis0's recent post announcing President Obama has decided not to approve of the Keystone pipeline exemplifies this new wiser, smarter aggressiveness, and should be just the first of many more bold moves where we tell the unscientific, backward, and dangerous climate deniers to sit down, shut up, up and let the grown ups manage these crises responsibly. They will not, of course. My point is that our attitude can no longer be one of meek, polite disagreement.