By Elizabeth E. Payne
Less than three months after asking for a rate hike for one of its subsidiaries, Duke Energy is now asking that customers of another subsidiary pay more, as well. In a statement issued on Aug. 25, the utility justified the need for the rate hike because of its “work to modernize power plants and generate cleaner electricity, responsibly manage coal ash and improve reliability.”
But the request would also shift onto customers the cost of cleaning up millions of tons of toxic coal ash while continuing to ensure profits for shareholders.
Cleaning up coal ash from the unlined water-filled pits in which it is stored is mandated by both state and federal law, and the cost is projected to exceed $5 billion. According to the Charlotte Observer, the company indicated that cleanup costs accounted for “more than half” of the proposed rate hike.
In June, Duke Energy Progress requested permission from the North Carolina Utilities Commission to increase the rates for its residential customers in its service area in the central and eastern part of the state and in Asheville by 16.7 percent. Non-residential customers would also see an increase. If approved, the increase would go into effect at the start of the new year.
In the request made in late August, Duke Energy Carolinas, a subsidiary serving central and western North Carolina, also asked the commission to approve a 16.7 percent rate hike for its residential customers, with slightly lower increases applying to its non-residential consumers, to go into effect in the spring.
The rate hike also includes the utility’s request for $636 million dollars, to be collected from ratepayers over 12 years, to recover the costs sunk into a nuclear site in South Carolina that it canceled in August before construction began.
Much of the requested increase would be gained by nearly doubling the “fixed cost” the utilities charge for merely connecting to the grid from $11.13 to $19.50, a change that would disproportionately impact low-income residents and discourage investments in energy efficiency.
According to the utility’s filing, the increase is needed because current rates cannot meet operating costs “and also provide its investors with reasonable returns on their investments of needed capital.”
Residents wishing to voice concern about the rate hike can attend one of the public hearings being held across the state through mid-October or send comments directly to the state utility commision. For more information, visit appvoices.org/tell_duke_no_rate_hike/.