By Travis Tallent
On Tuesday, the public had its chance to voice any opposition they had towards Duke Energy and their proposed rate hikes. Duke Energy has proposed a 9.7 percent increase in its electric rates. The North Carolina Utilities Commission is holding hearings across the state to allow the public to have their say. Franklin was the site of one of these hearings — the only one west of Asheville — and people filled the courtroom designated for the hearing at the Macon County Court House Tuesday night.
Duke officials say that the increase is critical to its ongoing modernization plan to address increasingly stringent environmental regulations and retire and replace aging power plants.
Aside from the citizens who have voiced opinions since the proposal was made, a number of organizations have taken a stand in opposition as well.
N.C. WARN, a nonprofit organization that works to combat climate change and monitors utility practices across the state, has been a key combatant to the rise in costs. According to data provided by the group, this would be Duke’s third rate hike in the Carolinas since 2009 and would boost residential rates by 13.9 percent and 8.2 to 9.9 percent for small businesses with large industrial corporations only seeing an increase of three percent.
“If successful, Duke’s latest hike would bring households rates to a level 30 percent higher than in 2009,” according to flyers being distributed by the group. “That trend will continue if politically appointed utilities commissioners let Duke keep financing its dirty energy growth model on the backs of smaller customers.”
Another organization, Customers Against Rate Hikes, points to business strategies used by Duke to attract large companies as a tactic to allow regular citizens to foot the bill for rate increases.
“Duke keeps down the rates of its largest customers—including energy-hogging data centers like Apple, Google, and Facebook— by shifting costs of new power plants onto smaller customers. Then, by offering rockbottom rates and other incentives, Duke entices more high-load, low-jobs data centers into North Carolina, driving up demand for even more power plants that otherwise would not be needed—and raising small customer rates yet again.”
A third group that has been fervently trying to bring awareness to the issue is AARP – N.C. AARP is a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that serves citizens over the age of 50 in a variety of ways and boasts 37 million memberships. Their argument is that the majority of people in that age group are on a fixed income and citing the 30 percent increase since 2009, a spokesman said that the consumer must be properly considered before raising the rates.
“We started getting involved with this because we’re hearing from our members every day about their need for affordable energy,” said AARP communications director Steve Hahn. “We have to consider that most seniors have gotten very small Social Security income increases each year with last year’s increase being at 1.7 percent, so this 11.8 percent increase just for utilities alone is something that they find tough to deal with.”
In hopes of putting a stop to any further increases AARP hopes its members and others will attend the public hearings being held around the state.
“We hope that people who are concerned will weigh in with the Utilities Commission, the public voice matters,” he said. “In these economic times, an increase like this is not sustainable. We’re facing rising costs when it comes to healthcare, food, gas, and just about everything else so as consumers we need to make our homes more efficient, but we also need to set reasonable rates.”
The Canary Coalition has also been extremely vocal in opposition to the rate increases that have been floated by Duke Energy.
“This is another in the series of rate hikes that we have experienced in the last several years,” said executive director and one of the founders, Avram Friedman. “Because of a law that was passed in 2007, rate payers will be forced to pay for their business plan as power plants get built. We feel that rather than financing that scheme, the Utilities Commission should be restructuring rates so that people and businesses that invest in energy efficiency and conservation are rewarded by creating lower rates for those customers and create higher rates for those who waste energy.”