Opposition is strong to Duke Energy Carolinas’ request for a nearly 10 percent rate increase.
The energy giant’s request must be approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission, whose commissioners are appointed by the governor. The commission is holding public witness hearings across the state to gather input from Duke Energy customers.
Commissioners were in Winston-Salem yesterday, after the Chronicle’s press time.
NCWARN, an environmental nonprofit group that is a key opponent of a rate hike, held sessions in Winston-Salem to help prepare local residents to speak before the Commission.
“Our objection is that the commission continues to allow for Duke Energy to recoup the expenses upon these energy choices that are more expensive and harmful for the general public,” NCWARN’s Sammy Slade said.
Duke Energy wants the rate increase to recoup the money it spent to modernize two of its nuclear power stations and construct two new coal plants. NCWARN maintains that it would be cheaper for customers and Duke Energy and better for the environment to invest in methods like weatherization and renewable energy.
NCWARN’s opposition and concerns are shared by a number of local groups, including 350.org Winston-Salem, Occupy Winston-Salem and Democracy NC.
“To us, that’s an issue that affects people’s lives and so we’re happy to do what we can,” said Democracy NC’s local field organizer Linda Sutton.
Pete MacDowell program director for NCWARN, said getting state residents to speak out is important.
“They will be charged again and again and again for unnecessary expenditures and unnecessary plants until people put a stop to it,” he said.
MacDowell said he was dismayed that the NC Utility Commission’s Public Staff, which advocates on behalf of the public, came up with a settlement recommendation of an approximately 5.1 percent average hike among Duke Energy customers, below the 9.7 percent the company asked for, before the public hearings were even over.
David Drooz, a Public Staff attorney, said the recommendation was not made without input from residents. The Public Staff has an entire division that takes consumer complaints, he said, and the settlement recommendation reflects hundreds of hours put in by dozens of accountants, engineers and others on the staff to audit the company and determine if the rate increase it requested is warranted.
“Some people understandably have the perception that the company doesn’t need more money, that they ought to be denied, that the rates ought to lowered, but we have to look at what their costs really are,” said Drooz. “If the company was to have their rates reduced to a level that they’re not covering their costs, then ultimately that’s going to impair their ability to provide reliable electric service to their customers.”
Duke Energy had sought and won approval by the NC Utilities Commission last year for a 7.2 percent overall hike, but the decision was challenged by Attorney General Roy Cooper on the basis the commission failed to balance the needs of consumers with that of Duke Energy. The N.C. Supreme Court agreed and overturned the increase in April, sending it back to the commission for further consideration. Duke Energy’s last approved hike increase – seven percent – was more than two years ago.
Duke Energy spokesperson Lisa Parrish said the improvements the company made made the energy it provides more efficient and cleaner.
“This is a third in a series of three rate cases that involved modernizing our facilities, which puts us ahead of the curve in terms of environmental compliance,” said Parrish.
All work that is covered by the increase has already been done, she said, so the rate increase will help Duke recover the cost, she said, adding that this was the final phase of company’s modernization program.
If the hike is approved, Duke Energy would coup an extra $205 million in the first two years and $235 million a year after that, according to the Associated Press.
Commissioners are expected to consider the rate hike after evidentiary hearings are held in July.
Duke Energy customers can submit statements to the Utilities Commission by emailing email@example.com.