The nation's largest utility and a leading developer of renewable energy for the Los Angeles area is under fire in a complaint that accuses the company of being one of the worst polluters in the country.
In a 27-page complaint to the North Carolina attorney general that is scheduled to be filed Wednesday, Charlotte-based Duke Energy Corp. is accused of "a persistent pattern" of abuses "such as criminal activity" that dates to its involvement in "manipulating power supply and causing corporate-sponsored blackouts in California."
Duke Energy was fined $250 million for its part in the California energy crisis of 2000 and 2001, caused by a faulty electric deregulation law and market manipulation by wholesaler middlemen, including Enron Corp.
Watchdog group NC WARN, which regularly testifies in utility regulation cases, is asking the North Carolina attorney general to investigate Duke's operations and practices and determine whether the company's corporate charter should be amended to reduce its operations' impact on the environment.
Jim Warren, NC WARN's executive director, said Duke portrays one image with projects in the West such as the $8-billion wind power and storage project it plans. The project based in Wyoming and Utah is expected to produce twice as much electricity as Hoover Dam, enough to power 1.2 million homes in the Los Angeles area.
But Warren said that while Duke boasts of renewable-energy projects in the West, it maintains substantial coal operations in the Southeast that continue to pollute and damage the environment.
Last week, Duke reached a $7-million settlement with the state of North Carolina in connection with a spill that dumped up to 82,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.
In May, the utility pleaded guilty to nine criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act and was fined $102 million in U.S. district court. The utility was placed on five years' probation for environmental crimes. As a result, all company compliance related to coal ash in five states will be overseen by a court-appointed monitor and reported to federal parole officers.
"They're not cutting emissions," Warren said. "They're making it worse."
In a statement about last week's settlement, Duke said the company is addressing environmental concerns.
"Operating our system safely and protecting the health and well-being of our plant neighbors are our highest priorities," Duke stated.