CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two months to the day after Duke Energy spilled millions of tons of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina, Duke’s CEO Lynn Good stepped in front of the cameras for the first time to answer a few questions.
Duke picked the venue with a largely-friendly audience at the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club, meeting over lunch of salmon and chicken parmesan at the Palm at Phillips Place.
“It was an accident and it resulted in an accidental discharge,” said Good, making no mention of any company wrongdoing, “And I just want to say we are accountable for this and are prepared to move forward.”
The crowd gave Good a warm round of applause after breakfast; founder Chuck Hood thanked her for “owning it”.
But Duke has responded to all reporters’ questions to date off camera and even faced criticism from Governor Pat McCrory, who was himself a longtime Duke employee. McCrory urged the huge electric company to “come out of the shadows”.
“I don’t believe it’s taken two months,” Good told reporters, “Duke has been responding to inquiries; we’ve been working actively on the Dan River site.”
The Duke Energy CEO has been on the job for about nine months. She told the audience the company is making headway in the cleanup.
“I am also pleased at this point that the overall water quality in the [Dan] river is back to normal and is good.”
That water quality does not take into account tons of coal ash sludge which coats the Dan River bottom for up to 70 miles.
On camera, Duke has taken responsibility for the costs of the cleanup at the Dan River. But in court Tuesday, Duke’s attorneys told a judge that Duke had broken no laws and engaged in no wrongdoing.
When asked what it means to “take responsibility” without admitting wrongdoing, Good replied, “You know Dan River was an accident. We’ve taken responsibility for it. We’ve mobilized all our resources.”
The multi-billion dollar question now is who will pay for the cleanup of 30 other coal ash ponds in the Duke system, starting with Asheville and Riverbend on Mountain Island Lake, the sole source of drinking water for almost a million people in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.
The company and the governor have said the NC Utilities Commission should resolve the question of those costs through its rate hearings, but Good did not say whether or when the company may begin pressing the Commission to recover those costs from ratepayers.