Final chance for Duke Energy customers to speak about possible rate hike

(Kristi O'Connor | WBTV)
(Kristi O'Connor | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Duke Energy has requested permission from the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) to increase customer rates by 13 percent.

The requested rate increase would amount to about $18 to $19 more for the average family using 1,000 kilowatts of energy a week, according to a Duke Energy spokesperson.

Tuesday, the NCUC will host a public hearing at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg courthouse to hear from Duke Energy customers. This is the last time Duke Energy customers will have a chance to express their concerns to the board. This is the third public hearing held so far, the first two were in Franklin and Greensboro.

Some Duke Energy customers like Roger Hollis of Cleveland County do not support the rate hike. Hollis says it would cripple the majority of his neighborhood, who relies on a fixed income.

"When you live on a fixed income, anything, I don't care if it's 50 cents, it makes a difference," Hollis said.

Hollis expressed more frustration over the potential rate hike after discussing the Duke Energy CEO's salary. According to the Charlotte Observer, CEO Lynn Good was making $13.8 million.

"How could somebody in an office making $13 million a year, not even think about the person out here that's not even making $12,000 a year," Hollis said.

"When we ask for a rate request, it's a very difficult decision," Duke Energy Spokesperson Paige Layne said. "We know that many of our customers are struggling month to month … so it is hard to make that decision to ask for rate recovery, but it is part of the process and the business structure."

People from across North Carolina and other states are planning to rally outside of the Duke Energy Center Tuesday afternoon then march to the Mecklenburg County Courthouse before the public hearing begins.

Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign Mary Anne Hitt believes the rate hike will fund coal ash clean-up efforts.

"It's Duke's mess, Duke needs to pay to clean it up and to not put that charge on the regular North Carolina families," Hitt said.

Layne says management of coal ash, a by-product of energy from coal, has always been a part of Duke Energy customer rates. She says they are having to request a rate increase, because of changing federal and state regulations on how they manage coal ash.

"Technology used to be stored in ponds near the plant, but now the regulation is requiring us to remove that coal ash," Layne said. "So that's where the costs are associated with."

Layne says the revenue from the rate hike would also fund two solar plants, a gas plant and automation on the grid to help improve and maintain reliability. She says despite what others may say, revenue from the rate hike will not pay for past Duke Energy mistakes.

"There are no costs associated with cleaning up the Dan River spill, those costs were paid for by our shareholders," Layne said.

There will be another public hearing in February that the public can attend, but the public is not allowed to speak. The February hearing is for experts from each party to testify before the board. Following the February hearing, parties will have 30 days to submit a post-hearing file. Once those files are submitted, the board will begin making a decision. A spokesperson for the NCUC says it is likely a decision will not be made until March or April.

Copyright 2018 WBTV. All rights reserved.