By Sean Maroney
Every time you turn on a light, odds are you have Duke Energy to thank. The Charlotte-based company provides nearly 95 percent of North Carolinians with their electricity
It has close to 8 million total customers spread across more than 100,000 square miles.
These numbers are thanks in part to Duke’s $32-billion merger with the Raleigh-based Progress Energy in 2012. Industry experts say one reason we’re seeing these mergers is because of how expensive it is to update aging power plants. With costs in the billions, they say one company just won’t cut it anymore.
Duke Energy points out the merger aims to save customers hundreds of millions of dollars.
“We guaranteed $687 million through the first five to six years post-merger,” said Mike Hughes, Duke Energy’s vice president for community relations in North Carolina. “We’ve already achieved $185 million through the first 18 months.”
Hughes added they now think they’ll save customers more than $1 billion by 2017.
But critics, such as attorney John Runkle, ask, “Where are the savings for consumers? The merger was billed as a better deal for North Carolina consumers.”
“Duke has gone up in rates increases in 2009, 2011 and then last year,” Runkle said. “Progress had their first rate case they had in over 20 years, so the rates are going up.”
Runkle represents the energy watchdog group NC WARN, which is still in the process of appealing against the merger.
“A lot of low-income people are hurting now just because of the rate increases,” he said.
For instance, last year’s rate increase means that after September 2015, your average monthly bill will go up about $7.50.
In the end, NC WARN estimates the merger will cost consumers billions because of repairs to damaged plants in other states. These are costs the group says Duke Energy didn’t fully disclose in merger hearings.
“There were hidden costs that were part of the process that never came to light,” Runkle said.