Not clean enough

| September 30, 2014

Duke Energy logoEditorial by the News and Record, September 28, 2014.

Duke Energy didn’t finish cleaning up the Dan River. Nor its reputation.

It pledged at least another $2 million to the effort last week, part of a $10 million water resources fund that will provide grants in five states.

“I made a pledge we would do the right thing, that we were here for the long haul and we would make it right,” Paul Newton, Duke Energy’s president of North Carolina operations, said in announcing the initiative. “Today is a part of fulfilling that commitment.”

Making it right refers to the 39,000-ton spill of coal ash from a Duke pond near Eden into the Dan River in February. The commitment is only partially fulfilled because less than 10 percent of the potentially hazardous material was retrieved from the river. Most of the rest is buried in sediment along 70 miles of the waterway. A state health advisory against consumption of fish and shellfish from the river in Rockingham and Caswell counties is still in effect.

Duke pledged $250,000 to the River Bank Fund to “address water quality, encourage new development, improve cleanliness, increase access and promote the Dan River to build regional pride and encourage tourism.”

An equal amount will go to the Rockingham County Community Foundation “to support environmental and economic development projects.”

A riverside park in Danville, Va., will get $500,000 for improvements. More money is promised for projects along the Dan and in other regions.

It’s all positive but barely a drop in the ocean when measured against all the water-quality challenges posed by an energy giant that has relied on mountains of coal to generate electricity.

Certainly Duke customers have enjoyed the benefit of warm homes as a result. At the same time, ratepayers have contributed to handsome profits for the giant utility. As more attention is focused on the environmental impacts associated with power production, Duke ought to give back substantially to address long-festering problems, which include leaking coal ash ponds across the state.

It’s not only about water. A new study by the Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center found that just five Duke/Progress Energy coal plants accounted for 38 percent of North Carolina’s total carbon emissions in 2012. The top carbon-emissions plant in the state was the Belews Creek Steam Station. It was 18th-worst in the country, Environment North Carolina reported.

Duke notes it is making “significant improvements to reduce emissions” at all its coal plants. Yet, these facilities remain among the largest sources of air pollution in a country that trails only China in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Duke’s $10 million can fund helpful projects aimed at improving water quality. Ultimately, however, the company’s more important work is converting coal plants to natural gas and advancing renewable energy initiatives to ensure cleaner air and water in the first place. Because, once these resources are spoiled, the damage lingers for a long time.

Category: SPIN Blog

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