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Coal ash is the waste that remains when coal is burned. It is usually collected in a dump, known as a pond. North Carolina has more than 30 such sites in 14 different locations across the state. A pipe running under one of the ponds run by Duke Energy in Eden NC ruptured in February of 2014. The coal ash spilled, largely affecting the Dan River which flows into Virginia. The spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.Many see potential complications because North Carolina's governor, Pat McCrory, worked for Duke Energy for 28 years.

Duke Energy's Request For Rate Increase Includes $2 Million In Bottled Water

Duke Energy's coal burning plant and the adjacent coal ash ponds by the Dan River.
Riverkeeper Foundation
File photo of Duke Energy's coal-burning plant and the adjacent coal ash ponds by the Dan River.

Hearings continue this week in Duke Energy's request for a rate hike, and among the costs that the utility is trying to recover is nearly $2 million for bottled water it provides to homeowners near coal ash pits. 

The company started buying the water in 2015 after tests of groundwater around the pits showed elevated levels of carcinogens like hexavalent chromium. The state sent letters to nearby homeowners, saying they should not use their water for drinking or cooking. Last year, a change in state law required Duke Energy to keep providing bottled water to hundreds of people.

"Part of our compliance with the law was to provide a permanent water supply for these customers," said Duke Energy Spokesman Jeff Brooks. "And so the costs from that change in the state law in 2016 until today are the costs that we've included in this request."

Salisbury resident Deborah Graham lives near the coal ash pits at Duke Energy's Buck Steam Station, and continues to receive bottled water today. She says she did not understand that ratepayers would ever have to cover those costs.

"We should not have to pay for this," Graham said. "We paid our part when we paid our power bills.  Some of this stuff has been sitting in these pits for 50, 60 years."

Duke Energy is also asking to recover nearly $200 million a year for the cost of cleaning up its coal ash pits. Duke argues complying with environmental regulations is part of the cost of doing business, and has maintained there is no evidence to show that its coal ash pits are responsible for nearby contamination.

This week's hearings are addressing a proposed 9.5 percent rate increase for customers of Duke Energy Progress. The Utilities Commission will consider a separate rate case for Duke Energy Carolinas next year.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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