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Speak your mind about energy bills

Speak your mind about energy bills

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Area residents and businesses will soon have an important — and rare — chance to speak out against Duke Energy’s request to raise rates.

The N.C. Utilities Commission is holding a public hearing that will provide a chance for all of us to stand up to Duke’s monopoly power in the state and reject its outdated business model that is keeping North Carolina locked into ever-increasing rates while further delaying the transition to a clean energy economy that we so desperately need. The hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m., at the Burke County Courthouse at 201 S. Green St. in Morganton.

Duke — in this case, Duke Energy Carolinas, one of the two Duke Energy companies operating in the state — is requesting a 10.3 percent rate increase for residential customers, which would add about $100 a year for the average home using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month, and even more for higher energy users. For businesses, Duke wants to raise rates by 5 to 7 percent. This is happening at the same time that Duke Energy Progress, the second of the two Duke companies, is requesting an even bigger rate increase to pay for, among other things, new natural gas plants.

These increases might be acceptable if Duke was planning to use the extra money to invest in more renewable energy and energy efficiency, which would save families and businesses money almost immediately. In reality, Duke is requesting the increases in order to make us pay for things such as cleaning up its coal ash mess and pouring billions into questionable “grid improvement” expenses. On top of that, the rate increases would allow Duke to recover costs related to lobbying our elected representatives for legislation that expanded Duke’s control over our energy future and would have boosted profits for Duke at our expense.

What’s more, Duke is asking the commission to pre-approve billions more in “grid improvement” and coal ash cleanup in future years through a mechanism that is similar to the “multiyear ratemaking” that Duke pursued through Senate Bill 559 last year. That bill, appropriately dubbed the “Ratepayer Ripoff” bill, failed as the result of strong public opposition, which included thousands of phone calls and letters sent to legislators and strong public opposition from affected communities and businesses.

In other words, democracy worked, and our legislators heard our voices and rejected that part of Duke’s bill, thereby protecting the public interest from the excesses of the monopoly electric utility. Unfortunately, having failed in the legislature, Duke is now trying to circumvent our democracy by pushing for the same multiyear, pre-approval of expenses that its shareholders can profit from, increasing rates even more.

The organization I work for, Appalachian Voices, as well as numerous other environmental justice and clean energy advocates, oppose Duke’s requested rate increase because of its utter failure to advance cost-effective investments in renewables and energy efficiency, while groups like AARP North Carolina are strongly opposed to the rate hike because of the impact it would have on limited-income families and fixed-income seniors now and for years to come.

It’s time for us to fight back against Duke Energy and end its monopoly stronghold on our energy system. It’s time for us to raise our voices and exert our collective power by democratizing the decision-making processes that define our economic and energy future in North Carolina. The upcoming rate hearing is an important way for us to achieve that. Duke and state regulators need to hear from all of us. We hope to see you at the Burke County Courthouse on Jan. 16.

Rory McIlmoil is a senior energy analyst for Appalachian Voices, based in Boone.

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