By Mike Conley
More than 50 people attended the Wednesday evening hearing at the McDowell County Courthouse about Duke Energy’s request for yet another rate increase.
Duke Energy is seeking its third rate increase in the Carolinas since 2009 and the N.C. Utilities Commission is holding a series of hearings so the public can speak out about it. If approved, it could boost average residential rates by 13.9 percent and small to medium-sized business rates by up to 10.7 percent, according to local officials.
Wednesday evening, the Utilities Commission held its hearing in Marion at the courthouse. Local officials, average McDowell County residents and people from other cities and counties all signed up to speak about Duke’s requested rate hike. Most of them spoke strongly against it.
The people who spoke about the rate hike had to be sworn in first. A few of them were questioned by lawyers representing both sides of the issue. Robert Kaylor, a Raleigh lawyer, represented Duke Energy. Originally from McDowell, he is a nephew of Commissioner Joe Kaylor. Bob Gilliam, another Raleigh lawyer, was there to represent the consumers and the public at this hearing.
Robin Nicholson, district manager for Duke Energy, was the first to speak. She said the rate increase is needed because of the company’s modernization program.
“Over the last six years, the company has spent billions to build new state-of-the-art power plants that will serve our customers for decades to come,” said Nicholson. “These new facilities replace ones that were built in the middle of the last century. I’d like to ask folks in my district: What home appliances do you use that are more than 70 years old? Not the washing machine, the stove or the cook top. Your car is probably newer than that. At home, we upgrade our appliances for better efficiency and effectiveness. At Duke Energy, we have upgraded our power plants for the same reasons – not only are we interested in performance we are also interested in environmental compliance.”
But many others said they didn’t think the rate increased is justified.
Mayor Steve Little said he wanted to voice his “strongest possible objection” to the rate hike.
“A request for an increase of the size that we see is unconscionable,” said Little. “It is simply not reasonable. It is not fair. We are not one of the big guys. We are not rich but we get hammered.”
Little and other city officials talked about the lack of adequate notice for this hearing.
“If I had not received a call from Raleigh at my home on Sunday night inquiring if I was planning to attend and speak at this meeting, I possibly would have missed my opportunity to address the commission as I have done in all the meetings since 2009,” said Mayor Pro Tem Lloyd Cuthbertson.