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Duke Energy Settles With 2 Insurers It Sued Over Coal Ash Cleanups

David Boraks
Duke Energy has spent hundreds of millions of dollars so far on coal ash cleanups like this one at the former Riverbend Plant in Gaston County in 2017. It sued insurers who refused to help pay for the cleanups.

Duke Energy has reached a confidential settlement with two of a group of insurance companies it sued four years ago over coal ash cleanups. Charlotte-based Duke sued after the companies refused to help pay for multi-billion-dollar cleanups required by state and federal laws at coal-fired power plants.

In a filing with the North Carolina Utilities Commission, Duke says French insurer Generali, formerly known as Le Continent, paid the undisclosed settlement on May 7. Duke also recently settled with another French company, L'Etoile, according to Duke spokesman Bill Norton.

Norton said it's too early to say what impact the payment may have on rates. Customers already are paying most of the estimated $4 billion cleanup cost in North Carolina. State regulators have ordered the company to absorb about $1.1 billion of that cost.

Norton said cases against some other insurers have been dismissed, but the discussions are continuing with 21 remaining companies. If no settlements are reached, the case is expected to go to trial next year at Mecklenburg County Superior Court in Charlotte.

Duke said in the filing that proceeds from the latest settlement will be divided between its two North Carolina operating units, Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress, based on the amount of coal ash at their plants.

Coal ash is the potentially toxic residue left after coal is burned for energy. For decades, Duke dumped the ash into ponds and mounds around its coal-fired power plants. In recent years, the federal government, courts, state lawmakers and regulators have ordered the company to clean up coal ash sites.

Some will be recycled for use in construction materials, but most will be moved to new, lined landfills to prevent seepage into groundwater and waterways.

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Corrected: May 19, 2021 at 5:28 PM EDT
This story has been updated with additional information from Duke Energy: Settlements have now been reached with two insurers, some cases were dismissed, and 21 companies remain in the lawsuit.
David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.