Guest Blog: Duke Rate Hike Should be Denied

Feb 5, 2018

Duke Energy Rate Hike

Maria Gelabert, Board Member, Clean Air Carolina

Professor of Chemistry, Winthrop University

Duke Energy is under close scrutiny for a recently proposed rate hike to cover the costs of coal ash leaching and associated environmental remediation, grid modernization, and new gas plants. A number of advocacy groups, expert testimony on behalf of corporations Apple, Facebook, and Google, as well as various editorial pieces, have strongly criticized this proposition. The NC Utilities Commission should deny this request for a number of reasons.

Rather than overall rate hikes, Duke should be considering adjustments to any tiered rate system, where any electricity use deemed excessive (compared to square footage of a building, for example) has a higher rate. Customers, especially industrial consumers, who use excess resources, such as the regional tendency to set air conditioning thermostats much lower than required, should be paying higher rates for use of electricity beyond a reasonable threshold. Duke could be more effective at promoting practices to conserve resources such as coal, reducing production of coal ash waste. Instead, this rate increase essentially asks electrically thrifty customers to pay for those who waste electricity and is described as “unwise and unfair” in a News & Observer editorial.

Duke needs to ensure that low-income households, small businesses, and fixed-income older residents are not economically burdened in the regressive manner that a significant percentage (proposed 16.7%) would guarantee. The proposal to increase the “mandatory fee” by 75%, to almost $20 per month, is flatly unacceptable, especially after this fee was almost doubled in 2013. Further, as the Utilities Commission’s Public Staff and National Economic Research Associates note in The Charlotte Business Journal, more details should be provided for Duke’s grid modernization, for which Duke should file a separate rate proposal, specifically outlining upgrades.

With the recent acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke has greatly expanded its footprint in natural gas service, reinforcing its push to an energy monopoly in North Carolina. With this, consumers expect stronger actions of responsibility above and beyond what is required by the NC Utilities Commission and other public entities.

Duke needs to seriously reconsider the idea that any internal rising costs, beyond modest inflation, should be passed on to the consumer. With this significant proposed rate increase, we are not convinced that Duke is thinking about its financial difficulties in a way that considers all relevant parties, but especially vulnerable communities that are impacted far greater than wealthier consumers and corporations. Further, because this is connected to previously established irresponsibility with coal ash, consumers should absolutely not be held responsible. Duke itself needs to “pay the bill” and face the consequences via disappointed shareholders and handling tough environmental problems in a competent manner. This is the most ethical and responsible choice if Duke truly wants to abide by its governing principles of sustainability.

Proposed sites for relocation of coal ash would continue to impact vulnerable communities due to proximity to drinking water wells and heavy metal leaching into local water supplies. This potential problem should not be underestimated simply because the EPA has defined this waste as legally disposable in a landfill, which has an impermeable protective liner. The combination of carcinogenic heavy metals, combined with water, makes this a serious environmental risk affecting communities over long periods of time.

Speak out against coal ash

To submit your comments and concerns to the North Carolina Utilities Commission on this issue.  Please make comments before February 27. All comments will become part of the public record and can be viewed here.

  • Email: statements@ncuc.net
  • Subject: Docket Number E-7 Sub 1146.
  • In the comments, please include your name, address, and confirmation that you are a Duke Energy customer. 

Want to learn more and get updated on coal ash?

Catawba Riverkeeper is sponsoring Coal Ash Catch-Up on February 7, 6:30 pm at Triple C Brewing Company in Charlotte. This event will begin with a presentation by Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins and follow-up with Q & A discussion.