On Tuesday Oct. 25, at the McDowell County courthouse in Marion, the N.C. Utilities Commission heard a succession of voices all proclaiming the same message: Do not approve the 17 percent rate hike proposed by Duke Energy Carolinas. Public hearings for feedback on the rate hike continue this week and Duke Energy’s customers are coming out, demanding to be heard. The commission is also accepting public comments by e-mail. Submit yours here.
The dozens of speakers at the Marion hearing, including local residents, retirees, environmental advocates, members of the faith community, school officials and the mayor of the city, proved further that Duke Energy’s 1.8 million customers in North Carolina come from all walks of life. And though everyone had their own reasons for opposing the rate increase, the reactions heard were unequivocal.
There could not be a worse time to raise rates.
If the increase is approved, Duke Energy Carolinas claims it can close unproductive plants, invest in renovations on operating facilities such as the controversial Cliffside Power Plant, and pay for several completed projects.
Dr. Richard Fireman was the first invited to speak. His calm testimony retreated from blaming Duke Energy. Instead, he shed light on the larger problems we as a society face.
“All government rights are instituted solely for the good of the whole,” Fireman said, quoting from the constitution of the state of North Carolina. “But corporate power has taken over the halls of government, which is now protecting the business of business.”
Dr. Fireman agrees, as many supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement have claimed, that campaign finance and the enormous amount of corporate dollars spent in financing campaigns and election efforts pose a risk to the people who should be served by their elected officials.
“In 2010, 115 of the 117 members of the general assembly received over half a million dollars in donations from Duke and Progress Energy in the 2010 elections,” Fireman said. “With power like that we, the people, are desperate for a voice that has our welfare as the foundations of its activity.”
Members and staff of Appalachian Voices were present at the hearing to give testimony opposing the rate hike. North Carolina Campaign Coordinator Sandra Diaz spoke about the illusion that Duke Energy’s utmost concern is their customers.
“Duke Energy says their core mission is to provide their customers with affordable, reliable and cleaner energy,” Diaz said. “But if Duke Energy was really concerned about ratepayers, their investment portfolio would look very different. The lack of action on energy efficiency suggests that Duke Energy’s real mission is to maximize profit for their shareholders with little regard for their ratepayers.”
“Luckily, we have the North Carolina utilities commission and the public staff.” Diaz said to those in attendance. “They’re responsible for providing fair regulation of utilities in the interest of the public, promoting least cost energy planning an providing just and reason rates and charges for utility services.”
Mayor Steve Little began his remarks by stating he was present not only to represent himself but everyone of the 8,000 residents of Marion.
“This is far, far, far too much,” Little said to the commission. He mentioned that in a part of North Carolina as economically depressed as McDowell County, people are lucky to still have their jobs.
“I don’t know of anybody who got a raise of 17.4 percent,” he said.
Others appealed to the idea that the rate hike is simply bad business. Katie Baird, a small business owner and environmentalist from Asheville, shared her thoughts with the commission.
“I understand when things are good for people, for customers, for finances and when they’re not and in my opinion Duke Energy demanding that their customers pay for failed investments is bad business,” Baird said. “I would not do that to my customers and I’m asking as a business person and as a customer that Duke Energy to do the same.”
Even after rates increases were approved on South Carolina customers last year and North Carolina customers in 2009, the company calls this a “reasonable request.” In 2010, Duke Energy walked away with record profits of $1.3 billion and its CEO, Jim Rogers earned $6.9 million in dividends.
Before public testimony began, Robin Nicholson, a Duke Energy employee in the Marion and Hickory area, spoke on behalf of her company.
“It is no secret this region has been significantly impacted by the economic downturn,” she said. But she insisted that Duke Energy, which will become the largest utilities provider in the United States if its merger with Raleigh-based Progress Energy is approved, is also facing tough times.
Somehow it just doesn’t seem the same.
Public hearings continue before a final wrap-up hearing in Raleigh on Nov. 28:
· Thursday, Oct. 27: High Point
· Wednesday, Nov 2: Durham
Visit our action page if you can’t attend but would like to submit a comment to the Utilities Commission.
You can read more coverage of the Marion hearing from The McDowell News.