Customers rail against proposed Duke Energy rate increase
Posted November 2, 2011
Updated November 3, 2011
Durham, N.C. — Duke Energy customers railed against the utility's proposed 18 percent rate increase during a public hearing at Durham City Hall on Wednesday evening.
The hearing was part of a series held by the North Carolina Utilities Commission in an effort to gauge public opinion on the request, which would be the company's largest rate increase for residential customers in at least 20 years.
"They have no idea what regular people deal with every day," customer Judy Schlegel said.
Schlegel, 66, said she has a medical condition and cannot find permanent work.
"If I have to pay it, I would have to eat less. I don't know. There is not much to cut," she said.
If the North Carolina Utilities Commission allows the increase, monthly bills for typical residential customers would rise from $95 to about $113, starting in February.
Duke has said it wants the increase to recover part of the billions it has spent on its electricity-generating and transmission system in the Carolinas since 2009. Duke spokeswoman Betsy Conway said the company has not been allowed to recover the costs until the plant and new equipment is in service.
"Over the past two years, we have invested $4.8 billion in the system. So, we are seeking to recover those costs," Conway said.
Duke said it must retire and replace aging plants and meet environmental regulations. They say the rates are competitive in the southeast and below the national average.
“We recognize there is never a good time to ask our customers to pay more,” Conway said.
Customers pointed to two prior hikes since the beginning of last year, and another expected next year.
A group known as the Raging Grannies sang their protest to the rate increase at Wednesday's hearing.
"We demand you all listen to the citizens today. No rate hike, no way," they sang.
Earlier hearings were held in Charlotte, Franklin, Marion and High Point. The final hearing is Nov. 28 in Raleigh, when the utilities commission hears testimony and cross-examination of witnesses for Duke Energy and groups opposed to the request.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said his department's Consumer Protection Division plans to participate in the hearing and speak out against the increase.
"There’s never a good time to see your utility bill go up, but a sharp increase right now would really make it hard for many North Carolina families to make ends meet,” Cooper said in a statement Thursday.
Cooper said dozens of people have written to him expressing their concerns about having to pay higher costs for electricity. The Attorney General's Office has filed copies of the letters with the clerk for the Utilities Commission .
Charlotte-based Duke also wants to raise South Carolina residential power rates by 17 percent.
About an hour before Wednesday's meeting, more than 20 people gathered to protest the rate increase. They displayed signs in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement.