Duke Energy customers in Charlotte, elsewhere sue over coal ash waivers

The Duke Energy Center in Charlotte on August 31, 2016.
The Duke Energy Center in Charlotte on August 31, 2016.

A group of nine North Carolina residents, including some in the Charlotte area, sued Duke Energy on Wednesday over waivers the residents argue would take away their rights to sue the utility over harm from coal ash.

Filed in Wake County Superior Court, the class-action suit says the families all live within half a mile of sites where Duke has stored coal ash made from burning coal to produce electricity. Duke is required by state law to provide the residents with filtration systems or connect them to a public water supply, following Duke’s 2014 spill of ash into the Dan River, the suit says.

In addition, Charlotte-based Duke has offered the families a voluntary financial package of $5,000 to cover the transition to their new permanent water supply, as well as a stipend to help cover future water bills.

To receive the financial package, Duke wants the families to sign an agreement blocking them from taking future legal action against the utility over contamination of private wells or other property damage from coal ash, according to documents. The families argue the waivers are unfair and that, as a public utility, Duke is not allowed to make them sign a release.

In a statement, Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan called the suit an effort by lawyers to make money and that Duke is “already doing more than anyone” to care for people who live near its power plants.

“Specifically, the company is voluntarily offering a financial package to plant neighbors that is above and beyond what the law requires, which they can choose to accept or decline,” she said. “If they accept the package, it is customary to sign a waiver, closing out the issue once and for all.”

Regardless of whether the families accept the voluntary package, they will still receive the permanent new water supply, Sheehan noted.

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts