It's been a great week for Duke Energy.
Let's begin: on Friday, Governor McCrory—a former Duke executive, of course—signed House Bill 630, the coal ash sweetheart deal that environmentalists say lets Duke, a company that saw revenues in excess of $23 billion in 2015, off the hook for its toxic coal ash pollution.
By court order, Duke has to clean up seven of fourteen coal ash sites across the state. The bill gives the utility giant the option of drying out and capping that coal ash in place rather than excavating it at a greater cost, provided the utility supplies a clean drinking water source to households near coal ash ponds by 2018. Almost all of Duke Energy's coal ash ponds are located near state waterways.
"There are families across North Carolina who cannot drink their own well water because it's contaminated with the cancer-causing chemicals found in Duke Energy's coal ash," Dan Crawford, director of governmental relations for the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.
And then: Duke Energy (likely) got win number two on Tuesday when the state's Utilities Commission heard its proposal to acquire Charlotte-based Piedmont Natural Gas in a $4.9 billion merger. (The commission was expected to vote on the merger after we went to press Tuesday, though there's no definitive timetable.) Duke Energy says the merger will save North Carolina ratepayers money by allowing Duke to borrow cash for projects—including building more gas-fired power plants—at better rates, at a time when the energy market is moving away from coal. Duke says the move will also save PNG customers money on their electric and gas bills.
Proponents of renewable energy sources, who fear the acceleration of climate change by methane-releasing natural gas operations, staged an elaborate protest Monday afternoon. A bride and groom wearing gas masks—symbolizing Duke Energy and PNG—were wedded by a stand-in pastor representing McCrory.
"I'm concerned about the increasingly overwhelming political power of monopolies and the effect of that on our democracy," said Beth Henry, a Charlotte attorney who participated in the skit and testified before the Utilities Commission on Monday. "Duke can already go to the legislature and basically get whatever it wants. The bigger they get, the more money they'll have, the more powerful they'll be, and the harder it will be for anyone at any level of government to say no to them."