Duke Energy badly fumbled the political/PR ball on the coal-ash spill. Duke should have quickly rolled out a clear plan to clean up the Dan River and to deal with long-term management of ash ponds.
All we heard was the CEO saying ratepayers would pay. Politicians filled the void with preaching, posturing and their own policy proposals. Now Duke is floating down the political river taking on water.
But let’s be honest here. For the last 40 years, state government – and regulators – tacitly or expressly supported what Duke did. Why? Because it was cheap to use coal to generate electricity. And the ponds were the cheapest way to store the ash. That meant North Carolina could offer cheap, plentiful electricity to industry. Which helped build a booming manufacturing economy – and employ tens of thousands of people.
Now the question is what to do with the stuff. The quantity is so enormous and the ash so repugnant that there’s simply nowhere to send it. Even if you could move it, it would be the state’s largest project ever: billions of dollars and a decade or more.
There is a parallel to the nation’s storage of nuclear fuel waste. Tens of billions of dollars (ratepayer dollars) were spent on Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. Politicians (Sen. Harry Reid) vetoed Yucca, so the nuclear waste continues to be stored at individual nuclear sites around the country. The billions of dollars were wasted. And nothing was done.
Given Duke’s cluelessness and the state of politics today, how do you think this one is going to work out for you?