Waving over-sized “Monopoly” money and signs calling for the state Utilities Commission and its Public Staff to begin acting like genuine watchdogs, 50-plus representatives from a variety of consumer and environmental groups held a press conference/protest today outside the offices of the Commission in downtown Raleigh. The took place just over an hour prior to the commencement of new hearings on what would be Duke’s third major rate hike for residential consumers since 2009.
Despite the immediate impetus for the event, Jim Warren, Executive Director of NC WARN  said that the protest was about “a lot more than a rate hike. ” He said that protesters were calling into question “Duke Energy’s business model” which is predicated on improperly charging customers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Warren called for an end to the current pattern of Commission and Public Staff oversight which he described as one marked by secret, behind-closed-doors negotiations that invariably end up with Duke getting most of what it wants. Warren likened the current pattern to one in which police catch a bank robber in the act and then send him home with most of the money he stole.
Steve Hahn of AARP North Carolina followed Warren to the microphone and echoed his call for a new wave of strong Commission oversight. Hahn said the newest proposed rate hike would eat up up all of the extremely modest (1.7%) cost of living adjustments that fixed income seniors have received in the past year.
Monica Embrey of the environmental group Greenpeace said that Duke Energy is already forcing residential consumers to pay of their own demise through the company’s ongoing investments in “dirty and dangerous” fossil fuels and its refusal to meaningfully expand its commitment to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.
Satana Deberry of the North Carolina Housing Coalition  noted that Duke’s bills are, even at their current rates, already an enormous buden on low income households. She said that 10% of residential customers are already subejct to a shutoff order in any given year and, along with other speakers, lamented the fact that residential consumers are already being forced to subsidize special low rates given to commercial large data centers that employ few people but drain vast amounts of electricity — electricity for which the data centers pay 1/3 the rate of residential customers.
The event concluded with an amusing bit of streeet theater in which activist/actors portrayed Duke as a modern day “Monopoly Man” and the Utilities Commission as an ineffective and bumbling sheriff.
The rate hike hearing commenced at 1;30 and is expected to continue for several days.