Protesters turn up heat on Duke’s big rate hike

Robert Finch, far right, protesting the proposed increase outside the Dobbs Building. He later told the utilities commission: “I’m disabled. I’m on a fixed income. I can ill afford an increase like this.” (Photo: Lisa Sorg)


No commotion. No clapping. No signs. No singing.

With the rules of decorum laid out by Capitol Police, Duke Energy Progress District Manager Marty Clayton opened the rate hike hearing Monday night by telling the NC Utilities Commission, “We look forward to hearing from our customers this evening.”

That may be true, but it had to be difficult to hear witness after witness lambaste your employer as “backward,” “exploitative,” “untrustworthy” “polluters.”

More than 60 people testified before the state utilities commission — in tones ranging from anger to desperation to exasperation — urging the panel to deny Duke Energy Progress’s request for a 16.7 percent rate increase for residential customers.

About 60 people testified before the state utilities commission, all of them opposing Duke Energy Progress’s proposed rate hike. (Photo: Lisa Sorg

About three-quarters of the additional revenue from the residential rate hike — about $477 million annually — would pay for Duke Energy’s coal ash clean up.  The rest would be allocated to modernizing the grid, recovering from Hurricane Matthew, recouping expenses from a failed nuclear project and switching to “clean energy.” However that includes natural gas, which, as many speakers pointed out, is still a polluting fossil fuel.

“I understand the need for Duke to recoup its losses from storm damage,” said Patricia Walker of Raleigh, “but not coal ash. They and they alone are responsible for the cost of cleaning up the ash pits. There is no justifcation for Duke Energy to foist the costs onto customers.”

The notion that Duke Progress customers should pay for the utility’s mismanagement of its coal ash ponds and basins — for which the company was fined a record $102 million —  was unanimously galling. “What deterrent is there if we pay the penalty?” said Dewey Botts of Zebulon.

About 2 million customers would be affected by the rate increase. It would equate to about $18 extra a month for homes that use 1,000 kilowatt hours. But that figure tells only part of the story.

Inefficient homes, common in low-income neighborhoods and among rental properties, can use twice that, potentially jacking up the monthly bill to twice that amount. Industrial and commercial customers would see their rates rise by an average of 11 percent. With that revenue, Duke would generate a total of $647 million annually.

Robert Rodriguez of Raleigh encouraged Duke Energy to wean itself off coal and natural gas. While Duke is providing a percentage of its electricity from renewables — 6 percent of 2014 retail sales, as required by state law — Rodriguez urged the utility to “aggressively pursue renewable energy.”

Two members of the commission’s public staff — tasked with representing the ratepayers — sat at one table. Across the room Dwight Allen, Duke Energy’s attorney, sat alone, flanked by TV cameras pointing into the crowd. He took notes, sporadically finishing a thought by jabbing the paper with his pen.

Deborah Graham and Johnny Gurley, who live near coal ash basins on opposite sides of the state, rely on bottled water provided by the utility. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Allen, who is from eastern North Carolina, occasionally cross-examined witnesses, and at times, the exchange was testy, even in his Down East patois.

“How do you know you Duke Energy is profitable?” Allen asked one witness. “Did you read a financial statement?”

“I read it in the newspaper,” the witness replied.

According to the Charlotte ObserverDuke posted a $686 million profit in the second quarter of this year.

Dwight Allen, attorney for Duke Energy (Photo: Lisa Sorg)


One Comment

  1. Walter von Schonfeld

    September 27, 2017 at 11:38 am

    As someone who is retired, living on a limited income, and faced with increasing health care costs as I reach my 60’s any increase in my electric bill will be difficult for me. But I’m also speaking for those who are much less well off then myself and who struggle on a weekly basis, even when working two or more jobs, to provide food, shelter and health care for themselves and their families.

    As someone who has been keenly aware of the relationship between burning ever more costly fossil fuels and their degradation of our environment I encourage the transition to production of energy from clean, renewable methods such as wind and solar.

    Yes the initial costs of building the infrastructure must be overcome but when compared with the true costs of generating electricity from fossil fuels to our health and that of our environment I believe that not only will clean, renewable energy bill competitive it will actually be less, much less.

    The price of generating energy from fossil fuels, as admitted by the power industries, is much less then the true cost to society as it doesn’t include those outlays in expenditure that we face when it comes to caring for people’s health already impacted from living in polluted environments and the cost of cleaning up said environments to protect future generations.

    I don’t think there is anything controversial in stating that Duke Energy Progress has long known that coal ash contains toxic elements and that their chosen way of storing it in open, unlined ponds near lakes and rivers is a danger to those people living nearby and to those communities who depend on wells and rivers to get their drinking water.

    It seems to me that long ago Duke opted for an expedient way to deal with coal ash waste to minimize costs in order to maximize profits. With the 2014 release of coal ash waste into the Dan River this dangerous potential to the people and the land has been sadly realized.

    Duke, one of the largest electric utilities in America with a market value of nearly 60 billion dollars, can well afford to foot the cost of cleaning up after their chosen method of storing coal ash waste has proven to be woefully inadequate. The cost of implementing alternatives, safe to those living immediately near the depositories of waste and to the environment, should be considered the cost of doing business and not be passed onto its customers.

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