Consumer groups battle latest Duke Energy rate hike

Some giant corporations complain about and battle government. Others try to co-opt and corrupt it. In the case of Duke Energy, one gets the distinct impression that the ever-mushrooming Charlotte-based monopoly will simply absorb North Carolina state government at some point and turn it into its Raleigh branch.

Fortunately, some intrepid consumer advocates are still giving Duke heck for the heck it continually visits upon residential ratepayers and our ever-more-fragile natural environment. Here’s their press statement from earlier this week on the occasion of a public hearing in Charlotte (the actual Utilities Commission proceedings begin Monday July 8 here in Raleigh — be on the lookout for more information):

Broad Coalition of Ratepayers Calls for Rejection of Duke Energy Rate Hike
Rate case opposed for environmental, social justice and financial reasons

Charlotte, NC.  A broad coalition of organizations and dissatisfied ratepayers will gather this evening at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse to call on the North Carolina Utilities Commission to reject the proposed Duke Energy rate hike and a settlement proposed by the Commission’s Public Staff. The coalition’s opposition is based on environmental, social justice and financial reasons.

Like many local clergy, Rabbi Jonathan Freirich, Associate Rabbi at Charlotte’s Temple Beth El, sees this rate hike as an environmental and social justice issue. “Deuteronomy teaches us, even when waging war, to not cut down trees, as we will need them once the war is done. So we must use our resources wisely, and we appeal to Duke to rethink where we get our energy and who pays for it. Even as we compensate those who provide our energy fairly, we must equitably share the burden of access to this public need.”

Coalition members all agree that the proposed Duke Energy rate hike will cost North Carolina jobs, require families, small businesses, and municipal governments to share a disproportionate burden of unnecessary and costly new plants, and that the Commission should reject the proposed settlement between Duke Energy and the Public Staff.

The proposed rate hike will pack a double wallop for small business owners – once on their struggling business and then at home. Duke has requested that costs for various customer classes be determined by an outdated method based on the single hottest hour in the summer. If approved, this will continue to shift costs from large commercial and industrial customers to families and small businesses. Tommy George, owner of Pasta Provision, noted that “It’s totally unfair that small businesses, the drivers of our economy, have to pay so much more than Duke’s large customers. Duke Energy is making record profits and they still want the small business owner to shoulder more than their fair share while offering big customers special deals.”

Electric bills represent one of the largest budget line items for cities, towns, and counties in North Carolina. When rising electric rates cannot be absorbed in local budgets, municipalities must cut other expenses or seek increases in local taxes. John Autry of the Charlotte City Council know this struggle,  “Municipalities across the state are struggling with budget issues and electric costs for public buildings, water and sewage treatment, and street lighting represent a significant line item. Duke’s unrealistic rate request will challenge community leaders to keep tax rates low. I’d personally be much more inclined to consider Duke’s request if we were assured that the additional revenue would be invested in clean renewable alternatives. We can reinvent our economy with such investments.”   

Many members express concern that charges submitted in the rate case are unjustified and inappropriate. They also say the deal made between the Public Staff and Duke Energy before having heard from the public or its experts’ testimony is not good government and undermines the public’s confidence that rates are determined in a fair and transparent way.

Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, NC WARN, the Sierra Club Central Piedmont Group, and others are calling on the Utilities Commission to end the serial Duke Energy rate hikes to pay for dirty energy when cleaner and cheaper alternatives are available for North Carolina. They find the request to pay for climate damaging fossil fuels and nuclear plants, while including zero dollars for NC solar and NC wind energy or energy efficiency, to be totally unacceptable.  

With Duke Energy officials citing continued declining demand and the need to rely on rate increases for profits in their regulated service areas, a number of coalition members are concerned about the growing political clout of the Duke Energy monopoly. Significant campaign contributions, excessive CEO compensation, and Duke’s avoidance of federal income tax raise questions about why Duke is raising rates on its customers if it can afford these other expenses.

Seniors and others on fixed incomes as well as the significant number of unemployed and underemployed will be disproportionally impacted by this third rate hike since 2009, which would represent a total 30% increase for residential customers. And for those residential customers that implement energy efficiency and conservation practices, Duke is proposing a new regressive rate structure that could penalize ratepayers.  Phyllis Jones, a retired but active Charlotte advocate, knows this all too well, “Duke Energy is imposing huge costs of many new power plants on seniors like me. Do they really want to be responsible for 70 year olds like me having to skip meals or skip buying monthly prescriptions to pay for dirty rate hikes?” Numerous members of AARP NC are also expected to speak out at the hearing.



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