RALEIGH, N.C. – Attorney General Josh Stein on Monday said a new settlement with Duke Energy could lead to lower utility bills for many customers.

Stein and Duke Energy on Monday announced a new settlement over the costs associated with excavating coal ash from the utility company's power plant sites. Stein says Duke Energy has agreed to pass along $1.1 billion in cleanup costs to its shareholders rather than its customers.

“The majority of costs in the 2019 rate cases that customers were going to experience because of cleaning up coal ash, that's going to be forgiven,” he says. “So, customers will be paying substantially less in their next rates because of what they otherwise would have paid to clean up coal ash.”

The settlement came almost exactly one year after Duke Energy entered into a consent agreement in which it agreed to excavate some 80 million tons of coal ash from nine remaining coal ash pits throughout the state. Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal at power plants and contains a number of toxic substances. The utility company had proposed passing along the cost to consumers in the form of higher utility rates. The NC Utilities Commission approved the idea before Stein and several environmental groups challenged the proposal.

Company spokesperson Meredith Archie says the entire coal ash excavation project will cost roughly $8-9 billion. Under the cost settlement, Duke Energy will reduce the amount it passes along to ratepayers by about 60 percent. Archie added this will lead to lower utility bills, though it's too soon to say how much the average customer will save.

The settlement covers cleanup costs through the year 2030. At that point, Archie said Duke Energy will still have about $1-1.5 billion worth of work left to do. She says it will be up to the company and state regulators whether or to what extent any of the cost would be passed along to customers.

The utilities commission still has to approve new rates that reflect the settlement that was announced on Monday.​