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 statewide to pay for all that water.
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.
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 included in a 9.5 percent rate increase it is requesting 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 considers 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 would also require the utilities commission's approval. Hearings on that case haven't started. Duke has said both requests cover other costs incurred in recent years, including to modernize power plants.
Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks said the rate increase 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.
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.