"I won't say it's a surprise, but the question had never been asked before," said Duke's senior vice president Paul Newton, who oversees fuel purchases. "It could be more or less in the future. What we do intend to do is continue to ask the question in the future." Duke says suppliers could not guarantee more than 10 percent because coal mined underground and from mountaintop mines is usually blended together. "Duke estimates that about 25 percent of the coal it burns in the Carolinas comes from mountaintop mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky," Henderson writes.
North Carolina law requires fuel costs to be passed on to consumers without a profit margin. "The N.C. Utilities Commission's Public Staff, which represents customers, sees no way the least-cost principle would permit Duke to pay extra for non-mountaintop coal," Henderson writes. Robert Gruber, the commission's executive director, told Henderson, "We don't like blowing up mountains more than anyone else, but we think they have to follow least-cost." (Read more)