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5 things to expect at Duke Energy’s rate hike hearing

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Residents in Duke Energy Progress’s service area could pay an average of $18 more a month for electricity if the state utilities commission approves the company’s request for a rate increase. (Map: Duke Energy)

One of the few things less popular than an rate hike is a Duke Energy rate hike.

On Monday in Raleigh, the North Carolina Utilities Commission [2] is holding a public hearing regarding Duke Energy Progress’s request for a 16.7 percent rate increase for residential customers. That equals about $18 more a month for the typical household. For low-income families, in particular, this is a significant increase.

Commercial and industrial customers’ rates would increase 13 to 16 percent.

The $477 million in additional annual revenue from the increase, the utility says, would help pay for its coal ash clean up, clean energy projects (although that includes not-so-clean natural gas) and expenses related to natural disasters, including Hurricane Matthew.

Already hundreds of public comments against the increase have been filed [3]electronically with the commission.

If you’re planning to attend — and really, who would want to miss it? — here is what you need to know:

  1. Crowds
    Get there early, because the room will fill. There are overflow areas with audio feeds, but if you want the full visual experience, you’ll need to get a seat in the Commission Hearing Room.
  2. Security
    A protest is planned for 5:30 p.m. on the Halifax Mall. And where there are protests, there is heightened security.
  3. Anger
    After more than two years, dozens of households near Duke’s coal ash basins still rely on bottled water. Since part of the rate increase is ostensibly to help the utility pay for the coal ash clean up — a disaster of its own making — expect an outpouring of ire. The Coal Ash Management Act [4]does not allow Duke to recover costs “related to unlawful discharges to surface waters of the state,” although there is wiggle room within the statute for “deferred costs.”
    Other pressure points: Duke Energy’s secret flood maps, which, until last Friday, the utility had kept private any information of who lives in flood zones should a dam/coal ash basin fail. The economic ramifications of the increase on low-income households. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the $5.5 billion natural gas project that Duke co-owns — which ratepayers will also foot the bill for.
  4. Math
    A lot of numbers and utility terminology will be thrown around: Dollars — millions of them — kilowatt hours, rate of return, demand, load dumping. Consider the experience a free class in utilities law and economics.
  5. A long night
    Utilities commission are regimented, quasi-judicial proceedings. Periods of tedium will be punctuated by lively comments. The hearing will be long but necessary. Bring water and trail mix.

When: Monday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m.,
Where: the Commission Hearing Room 2115,  at the Dobbs Building, 430 N. Salisbury St. It is right off Halifax Mall, behind the Legislative Building.

Additional hearings are scheduled [2] for Asheville (Wednesday, 7 p.m., Buncombe County Courthouse); Snow Hill (Wednesday, Oct. 11, 7 p.m., Greene County Courthouse); and Wilmington (Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., New Hanover County Courthouse).