For months, Duke Energy has been shipping bottles of water to North Carolina homes with private wells close to the electric utility’s coal ash storage sites.
Now, Duke wants customers in Charlotte and across the state to pick up the tab for all that water.
Charlotte-based Duke began providing bottles to hundreds of households across the state after a 2014 ash spill into the Dan River prompted concerns about well water near Duke’s ash sites. The spill brought national attention for the ash, a byproduct of generating electricity at coal-fired power plants.
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Last year, North Carolina enacted a law requiring Duke to offer to connect homes close to ash sites to public water systems or to install filtration systems for their wells. In the meantime, Duke has supplied the bottled water to comply with the law’s requirement that it provide alternative drinking water sources until it completes the connections or installs filters.
This week, Duke’s North Carolina president told a state regulator that bottled-water costs are part of a 9.5 percent increase it is requesting for customer bills in a territory covering eastern North Carolina and Asheville. David Fountain’s comments came in a hearing of the regulator, the North Carolina Utilities Commission, as it weighs Duke’s rate request.
Duke customers in Charlotte would also pay for bottled-water costs in a separate 13.6 percent rate increase requested for central and western North Carolina. That request also requires approval of the utilities commission, which hasn’t started hearings on that case. Duke has said both requests cover other costs incurred in recent years, including to modernize power plants.
Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks told the Observer the rate hike affecting Charlotte includes roughly $1.6 million in bottled-water costs. The Asheville and eastern North Carolina rate hike seeks less than $300,000 for bottled water, he said.
“These costs, because they’re part of complying with state law, are no different than any other compliance costs we incur as a regulated utility, and as such are appropriate to include in customer rates,” he said.
Amy Brown is among Charlotte-area residents still getting bottled water shipped to their homes. Brown, who said her Belmont home is less than 1,000 feet from Duke’s coal-powered Allen Steam Station, gets 360 bottles of Dasani water delivered to her from Duke every two weeks.
Brown remains worried about the quality of the water in her private well, which the state’s health department in 2015 recommended she not use for drinking or cooking because it exceeded state levels for contaminants.
Brown, who lives in the home with her husband and their two sons, 5 and 12, said she’s sick of twisting caps off 20-ounce bottles of water day and night. The family has used bottled water to cook every meal – as well as for brushing their teeth and rinsing dishes cleaned by the dishwasher – for more than 950 days and counting, she said.
She’s furious that Duke wants to make its customers pay for bottled water.
“Even if the legislature says they can ... doesn’t mean that you should. If that’s the case, why didn’t I just buy my own water?” she said. “We’re not the ones who had a Dan River spill. We didn’t want to have to live off bottled water.”
For its part, Duke contends its ash storage sites, which the utility has been closing across the state, aren’t contaminating private wells.
“Our science continues to demonstrate no connection between our operations at our coal sites and the findings in those neighbors’ wells,” Brooks said.