Duke Energy attorney compares rate hike to price of Big Mac, fries and Coke

In asking for rate increase, Duke Energy counsel suggests poorer customers can eat less fast food to afford new rates.

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Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Duke Energy customers facing a rate hike regardless of how much electricity they use shouldn't be too worried, because it's just the price of a McDonald's value meal each month, a company attorney said Monday.

"One extra Big Mac, fries and a drink," Duke Deputy General Counsel Bo Somers said during the company's ongoing rate increase hearing before the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Somers was pushing back against claims that the company's rate hikes, meant to raise billions of dollars in new revenue over the next 10 years, would be a hardship for some. Attorneys seeking to block state regulatory approval of the company's full request have keyed at times on Duke's basic facilities charge – the fee customers pay each month just to be hooked into the company's electric grid.

That fee now is $11.80 a month. The company wants an increase of $5.99 for residential customers, for a total of $17.79 a month. The increase is, indeed, the price of a Big Mac value meal from McDonald's. But it's not the only increase Duke seeks.

Duke Energy Carolinas, the company subsidiary serving the western half of the state, began this process by asking for a 16.7 percent rate increase, though that figure has come down some after negotiations with attorneys representing the public before the Utilities Commission. Add to that an additional $13 billion the company wants from tack-on bill riders, which would fund roughly a decade's worth of upgrades to the state's power grid and the burying of power lines.

Like the basic facilities charge, some of that rider would come as a fixed monthly charge, starting out at 72 cents a month and ramping up to at least $5 a month around 2021, an analyst arguing against the full increase testified Monday. The company also wants to pass along to customers coal ash cleanup costs forced by changes in state and federal law after a company pond spilled ash into the Dan River four years ago.

Somers' metaphor struck some in the audience Monday as coarse. Duke cleared $3 billion in profits last year, and Chief Executive Lynn Good, who attended Monday's hearing, made more than $21.4 million, a near doubling of her compensation since 2015.

"For a Duke representative to suggest that the company's low-income customers can deal with the proposed $5.99 hike in the monthly mandatory fee on their bill by eating one less McDonald's value meal per month is just insulting," Southern Environmental Law Center Attorney Gudrun Thompson said after the hearing wrapped up for the day.

The SELC is one of several groups fighting the increase.

A Duke spokeswoman said after the hearing that the company "doesn't take any increase lightly."

"We understand that, for some customers, any increase is important," spokeswoman Meredith Archie said.


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