Duke lobbyists seek annual rate hikes for massive grid boondoggle
Duke Energy executives are seeking support from North Carolina legislators and others for a highly controversial and twice-failed plan to lock in up to $13 billion in customer rate increases for what critics say are wasteful capital projects. Today, two watchdog groups denounced Duke’s grid “improvement” plan as part of a national scheme by electric monopolies to lard investors with billions by repeatedly raising power bills on families and businesses to pay for unnecessary grid projects.
In a letter to Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, NC WARN and Appalachian Voices today urged the two leaders to hold the line against Duke’s attempt to reverse their rejection of a similar plan in 2017. Over the past two years, dozens of commercial and industrial customer associations, consumer groups such as AARP, and environmental justice organizations have successfully opposed Duke’s grid proposal in the legislature and at the NC Utilities Commission.
Duke Energy’s strategy is to gain approval for an initial portion of the massive grid scheme, and seek the entire, multi-billion dollar rate hike over time, as noted in the Charlotte Business Journal last week. Top executives promised shareholders the utility will initiate “multiple rate cases” in North Carolina to fuel the grid “improvement” scheme and billions more for fracked gas-fired power plants to “enhance investment returns.”
In today’s letter, the groups said that despite an accelerating national shift in competitive markets toward cheaper, renewable energy paired with storage – and away from reliance on central power plants and transmission wires – Duke Energy executives are doubling down on what they call grid “improvement.” Critics say most of these projects, however, are routine maintenance that should not include a guaranteed profit nor be passed along through annual rate hikes, as Duke is seeking.
“Duke claims the plan would prepare the electric grid for more renewable energy, but as our letter describes, the giant monopoly is actually impeding the growth of renewables and storage, and plans to be only 8 percent renewable in the Carolinas in 15 years,” said Matt Wasson, Appalachian Voices’ Director of Programs.
Pointing to increasing damage from hurricanes, Duke officials claim their plan would help during power outages. The groups, whose letter is informed by a report by energy engineer Bill Powers, say battery storage sited near where power is used can increase reliability for all communities by reducing dependence on wires, and that storage is more economical than building backup transmission lines.
“Duke Energy executives are trying to foist billions of dollars’ worth of unnecessary costs onto the backs of North Carolina families and businesses,” said Jim Warren, Executive Director of NC WARN. “We call on Senator Berger and Speaker Moore to stand up for North Carolina families and businesses by rejecting Duke Energy’s grid improvement scheme for a second time.”