Duke Energy Rate Increase May Shrink
Wednesday night in Winston-Salem, protestors from the mountains to the Triangle rallied outside of the Forsyth County Court House.There were drummers, Puppeteers parading a larger than life smiling bright, yellow sun with hands, and people wearing oversized heads representing Duke Energy executives. "I'm Vicki Ryder with the Raging Grannies from the Triangle. There is no rate hike needed, it’s stealing from people," claims Ryder. "Duke Energy is making profits hand over fist. So their profits should go back into providing service for the people not into the pockets of their chief executive officers.” Ryder and the Raging Grannies sang protest songs. One she set to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic and titled, "No Rate Hike! No Way!" Jane Bratter also sings with the group. She's an independent artist in Winston-Salem. Bratter says she's resourceful, but she says she can only stretch things so far. “I’m on a fixed income. And to raise rates on the poor, elderly or people on fixed incomes, it’s disgraceful.”More than 70 opponents came from the Triangle, Danbury, Salisbury, the Triad and from communities in between protesting Duke Energy’s proposed rate hike. Bill Gupton says he wouldn't mind paying more if Duke Energy would practice more conservation techniques. "There’s very little that’s being done with renewable energy, wind and solar, regarding energy efficiency programs." explains Gupton. "We would love to see Duke reduce our energy demand by 20%, that’s the best way to keep rates down.”But Duke Energy spokeswoman Lisa Parrish says even renewable energy needs a backup. “What if the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow?Businesses still have to function in North Carolina and homeowners still need power when they want it," says Parrish. "That’s why we’ve built new power plants that are more affordable, energy efficient, environmentally friendly.” Since 2010, Duke Energy has increased rates twice--adding about $12 to the average residential utility bill. According to Parrish, money from all of the rate hikes are paying the company back for millions of dollars it has already invested to replace and modernize four facilities built before World War II. She also says after adjusting for inflation, North Carolina customers are paying less than they did in 1991. “The daily price for powering your home is between the cost of a gallon of gas and a cup of premium coffee. That’s a good deal for our customers.”Parrish says the company has tentatively agreed to lower the proposed residential rate increase. For two years, people would pay $5.38 more a month. In the third year, monthly residential bills would increase by $6.16. The company also wants the commission to approve an 11.25% shareholder return on equity. Inside the hearing, Salisbury resident Tom Lynch agreed Duke Energy and its shareholders should make a profit. But he urges them to "...be conscience of your cost. If you are, your rate will be at a reasonable level and with a reasonable rate, we can attract new industry to North Carolina.” But small business owner Ronda Jones says shareholders have a choice of whether or not to invest in Duke Energy while customers have no choice from where to buy their utility service. “In a normal setting, my bills are in excess of $300 a month but I do everything I can to keep my bill low,” says Jones. "The air conditioner isn't running if I'm not there nor is the heat. Doors are shut, things are zoned off, what ever I can do." For 18 years, she’s operated About Face in Kernersville. “And in this day in age you have to be hooked to the grid. Everybody needs a TV to keep up and a computer. We’re addicted and there’s no way out.” Over the next two weeks, the North Carolina Utilities Commission will hold public hearings in Charlotte and Hillsboro. Then a closed evidentiary hearing in Raleigh on July 8. Commissioners are expected to rule on this third proposed utility rate increase by early September.