By Travis Fain
RALEIGH, N.C. — Duke Energy spends tens of millions a year in North Carolina on lobbying, public relations and advertising, focusing in its most recent TV and radio spots on the “smarter energy future” it’s working toward.
The Charlotte-based utility, which has a public relations staff of more than 100 people, spent $5.5 million on advertising in the first three quarters of 2017, according to data gathered by REDBOOKS, which tracks media spending. It spent $7.8 million the year before that and more than $10 million in 2015.
Why does a monopoly need to advertise?
NC WARN, a climate change group that for years has protested Duke’s reliance on fossil fuels, has a theory, proffered last week as it argued against the company’s latest rate increase request in North Carolina. That request, now before the North Carolina Utilities Commission, could add billions to the company’s revenue sheets in coming years.
“It’s because buying favor and distorting its public record is an essential part of Duke’s monopoly business model,” NC WARN director Jim Warren said.
Duke executives clearly disagree. They pushed back during testimony before the commission as NC WARN tried to make the implication a major part of its argument against allowing the company’s western North Carolina operation, Duke Energy Carolinas, the dougle-digit rate increase it wants.
“And what is the purpose of the advertising?” NC WARN attorney John Runkle asked David Fountain, Duke’s North Carolina president.
“To let our customers and others in the state know about the good work that the company is doing on behalf of our customers and to promote a level of brand awareness,” Fountain replied. “We want customers to understand that North Carolina is well positioned for a cleaner energy future, a smarter energy future.”