Durham residents and businesses are once again being forced to pay to clean up Duke Energy’s mess.
This time, residential customers are being blindsided with a proposed 16.7 percent rate increase to monthly electricity bills, averaging over $220 a year for every household. The price for goods and services in Durham will rise, as commercial and industrial customers will see an average 10.9 percent increase as well. I will be affected by this rate hike. Many of my neighbors, my colleagues, my friends, and my community peers will also be affected.
The fate of this rate increase, proposed by Duke Energy, lies in the hands of the N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC). The most effective tool we have for preventing its approval is to testify to the NCUC in a public hearing. Astonishingly, Durhamites have twice been denied the opportunity by the NCUC to publicly testify on this proposed rate hike.
Duke Energy is a for-profit, regulated monopoly in North Carolina. This means there are no other energy providers or incentives to keep rates affordable. NCUC is supposed to be a check on Duke’s power by setting fair rates, but instead it focuses on guaranteeing Duke Energy revenues from its costs, even when those costs rise because of Duke’s expensive mistakes.
For decades, Duke Energy has ignored federal and state guidelines for the disposal of coal ash. A result of this negligence was the development of 14 hazardous coal ash sites throughout the state. In 2014, a pipe from one of those sites burst into Dan River, causing one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history and requiring homes nearby to live on bottled water for over 1,000 days.
You would think there would be a price to pay. But there wasn’t: neither the profits distributed to shareholders nor the bonuses enjoyed by C-level executives will be used to cover the costs of cleanup. Rather, Duke Energy will use the money generated from the rate hike to pay for coal ash cleanup. This means that individuals and communities suffering from or at risk of becoming victims of Duke’s poor-decision making will be picking up the tab for these choices.
Along with coal ash costs, Duke Energy will use my money to pay for a greenhouse gas-emitting natural gas power plant in South Carolina and a failed nuclear power plant in North Carolina. Duke is not planning to use money from increased rates to invest in significant solar or wind energy programs in North Carolina that would contribute to the state’s clean-energy future. Bottom line: Duke Energy customers are not given a seat at the table or a say in how their money will be spent.
Duke Energy has gone too far. They paper over their mistakes with feeble justifications and try to place blame elsewhere. They disregard regulations and poison the environment and expect the very people who suffer financially and physically from their irresponsibility to pay the price. The NCUC and Duke Energy have resisted hearing from Durham ratepayers who will be affected by this rate hike and who are opposed to paying for Duke Energy’s profit-maximizing mistakes.
Allowing Duke Energy this rate hike without putting up a fight sends a clear message that they can raise rates in North Carolina whenever they want with impunity. Fortunately, there is a platform for Durham residents to come together as a community and be heard. Open to the public and with support from local businesses, there will be a rally, symbolic blackout, and candlelight vigil demonstrating the consequences and dangers of this rate hike on Durham.
This event will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, at the Hayti Heritage Center (804 Old Fayetteville St., Durham). I urge you to join your neighbors and friends to tell Duke that you will not stand to pay for their mess!
Rachel Karasik ihas a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University.