As coal ash management changes, we all must share in the cost

David Fountain, Duke Energy
David Fountain, Duke Energy

In his July 8 opinion piece, “Why your power bill could spike in the not-too-distant future,” David Rogers of the Sierra Club provides one more example of how debased public discourse has become.

Rogers misrepresents decisions by the North Carolina Utilities Commission with which he and the Sierra Club disagree. In the process, he criticizes Duke Energy over the issue of recovering costs to close coal ash basins as a result of changes in public policy.

For decades, we have stored ash according to the prevailing industry practices, rules and regulations. However, new policies are driving energy companies around the country to permanently close ash basins. The cost of coal ash management, including compliance with state and federal regulations that govern our work, is a responsibility we all share as consumers of energy. The N.C. Utilities Commission has agreed that those costs are part of Duke Energy’s state mandate to provide reliable, affordable electricity, and has ruled that retail rates should include those prudent expenses.

David Fountain.jpg
David Fountain, Duke Energy Tony Pearce

Interestingly, the Sierra Club was happy to work with us to negotiate a groundbreaking compromise for grid infrastructure improvements in North Carolina, but quickly resorted to insults when the settlement was not approved by the Utilities Commission.

Contrary to Rogers’s assertion, the grid modernization proposal is focused not on maintaining the grid, but transforming it to leverage new innovations to better serve customers. The initiative makes use of advanced data to make smart, strategic reliability improvements, including technology to anticipate outages and automatically reroute and restore power (meaning fewer and shorter outages caused by weather, traffic accidents and other causes). It also will enable the grid to use more solar and clean energy technologies such as microgrids and battery storage, further reducing environmental impacts, and it will provide continuous information about customer energy use so customers can take action before they receive their bills.

The improvements also will make the grid more resilient to cyberattacks and potential physical threats. You need to look no further than news headlines in 2018 to know that this is a vital part of protecting the electricity grid that we all depend on.

Our door will always be open to people who want to collaborate in good faith. With the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, Duke Energy is committed to leveraging the collective knowledge, expertise and creativity of everyone who wants to help shape our state’s energy future.

Fountain is Duke Energy's North Carolina president.