Duke Energy spars with Civil Rights museum over power bills

Posted May 11
Updated May 12

— The nation's largest utility already turned off the lights during Black History Month at a museum honoring the lunch-counter sit-in that sparked the 1960s civil rights movement.

Now it's threatening to cut off the power altogether if the museum doesn't pay thousands more each month to cover the possibility of delinquent payments.

"Disconnecting a customer's service is the very last step in our collections process and it's an action we never want to take," Duke Energy said in a statement Thursday.

The museum honors the beginning of the sit-in movement, when four black freshmen at North Carolina A&T refused to leave the whites-only lunch counter at the F.W. Woolworth's store in downtown Greensboro on Feb. 1, 1960. Their courage to endure abuse and arrest sparked the rights crusade that spread across the South.

The historic lunch counter is the highlight of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, an important tourist attraction and educational destination in North Carolina's third largest city. But the museum has struggled to meet payment terms of loans it needed for renovations.

Museum officials sent a letter to the North Carolina Utilities Commission last month, asking regulators to block Duke's demand that the nonprofit pay $3,224 a month toward a $18,244 credit deposit, or risk losing power.

The letter accused Duke Energy of raising financial pressure on the museum and harming its fundraising efforts with the goal of ousting its black leaders and enabling the city to seize control. "It can only be interpreted that (Duke Energy) intended to help those forces who wished to take over the Museum," the letter said.

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan denied that city officials have been colluding with Duke in a takeover effort; her statement called the allegation "completely baseless and very disappointing," the News & Record of Greensboro reported.

Museum CEO John Swaine also said Duke didn't apologize for turning off the lights for several hours during Black History Month in February, which forced the museum to issue more than $1,800 in refunds.

Duke Energy asked the commission to dismiss the complaint, saying in a Monday filing that the museum has often been late paying its bills.

"While it's unfortunate that our efforts to assist the museum's leaders with their delinquencies have resulted in a formal complaint to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, we will cooperate fully within the process to ensure facts about the experience, including the basis for the deposit requirement, are presented," a company statement said.

In 2013, the city loaned the museum $1.5 million over three years to keep it operating. The city said it would forgive $1 of the loan for every $1 the museum raised from sources other than ticket sales. The city said last summer that the museum still owed taxpayers more than $933,000 at that point; Swaine has disputed that figure.

'This is ridiculous," Swaine said. "When you've spent the money we've spent with Duke Energy, I think they should have been a greater degree of care."

Duke spokesman Mike Hughes said flipping the power switch is not taken lightly.

"Unfortunately, the account has been eligible for disconnection almost two dozen times over the last couple of years."

Swaine said the tension has been present for years.

"I have been more than willing to work with them on what is driving the excessive billing," he said. "Something is very wrong there."


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  • John Kramer May 13, 8:51 a.m.
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    I am going to contact them to see if I can use my engineering skills to reduce their energy consumption.

  • Janet Ghumri May 12, 11:59 p.m.
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    It appears that whomever is responsible for managing the funds is underqualified for the position. If a few hours of disconnected service resulted in $1800. In refunds, I would venture to say incoming funds are not the issue. With that kind of money rolling in, the power bill should be paid prior to late date or disconnect date. Greensboro city manager needs to conduct an audit to verify that the money coming in is used properly. The citizens should not be taxed to line the pockets of anyone, if that's what is happening. Duke energy is being more than lenient, and I suspect it's due to the possible backlash from groups that monitor suspected discrimination. Sad that a landmark such as this is being managed so poorly. Smh

  • Douglas Roberts May 12, 9:34 p.m.
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    I forgot my bill. They cut me off with me sitting at my computer sending important email.

  • Thomas Williams May 12, 7:24 p.m.
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    View quoted thread

    I agree 100%. If this was a Civil War museum exhibit they would want to shut it down and demolish it. This is a prime example of their hypocrisy. If someone wanted to tear this thing own there would be such weeping and wailing from the PCs that you could hear it two states away. It is a nauseating scenario to watch happen to our country.

  • Stacie Hagwood May 12, 7:17 p.m.
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    I'm no fan of Duke Power, but if you don't pay your bills, that is what happens.

  • Albert Holmes May 12, 6:32 p.m.
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    Got a simple question to ask ? The liberals and dummies are protesting to do away with the confederate flag and monuments because they represent racism and slavery ! This museum or restaurant whatever you want to call it represents racism ! These three men were denied service because they were black. So why is it not being shut down. It is a sign of racism so shut it down or keep your mouth shut about the flag or monuments.

  • Andy Holt May 12, 6:09 p.m.
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    The taxpayers once again have been duped. The citizens of Greensboro need to put forth the genius that approved the $1.5 Mil loan to begin with. The city of Greensboro is the new owner & curator of this museum, immediately after the loan is defaulted, and the tax payers will then be on the hook for ALL of the money owed to Duke Energy. Can anyone give details of whom is (mis)handling the money for the museum? Where is the rest of the loan money? THAT would be a good place to start!

  • Brenda Lynch May 11, 4:57 p.m.
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    You don't pay you don't play. Plain and simple. I don't care who you are.

  • Ed Brown May 11, 4:34 p.m.
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    If this was a museum of the Confederacy, the story would be "Why is Duke dragging its feet in shutting off the power for these deadbeats? "

  • Teddy Fowler May 11, 3:59 p.m.
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    Pay up... It's your responsibility no matter how important and special you think you are...