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Duke Energy's proposal to raise its rates has some customers outraged. After seeing and hearing their reaction, Eyewitness News anchor Blair Miller sat down with the company's president.
As the president of Duke Energy, Brett Carter is the executive who recommends rates for the power company. He said the current request to raise rates by 14 percent to 17 percent in North Carolina is badly needed to upgrade the current power system.
"We will be retiring 38 units between 2011 and 2015 -- 18 of which are coal-fired units," Carter said. "When you take that off the system, you have to replace that with new facilities."
To pay for it, the average residential bill would increase by about $19 a month.
The state utilities commission must sign off on that. Part of the process includes public hearings like one that was held last week in Charlotte, which drew plenty of fired-up Duke customers.
"It's just not good business sense," one attendee said.
"Duke power is a monopoly," another said. "Duke power extorts."
RAW VIDEO: Duke Energy president discusses timing of rate increase proposal
RAW VIDEO: Duke Energy president responds to viewer feedback
Miller asked Carter if he thinks now is the best time for the proposed increase.
"If we had planned a time to have a rate case, this would absolutely not be the time to have a rate case," Carter said. "The fact is it's an unfortunate coincidence."
On Channel 9's Facebook page, many people have criticized Duke. Miller shared some of the comments with Carter.
"One person wrote, ‘This is greed corruption on the front page. While many cities are struggling, Charlotte has remained fairly strong. Why would we want to follow suit?' Another person writes, ‘I guess I'm working to give Duke Energy all of my money,'" Miller said. "That's just a couple. When you hear things like that, how do you respond? "
"It pulls at my heartstrings," Carter said. "I do understand where those customers are coming from."
As the youngest of seven children, Carter said his own family struggled to pay the power bill.
"You know Blair, I'll be completely honest with you -- I grew up in a household where that's something you could never do, and that was to talk about, you know, when the lights went out at home," Carter said. "I don't think you're going to find another person who is more sensitive to this issue than I am. The fact of the matter is, we have to maintain the system."
With four public hearings left, the state will ultimately decide whether to approve the rate hike. But even with all of the backlash, Duke Energy thinks it will happen.
"So I've got to ask, if you're going to push forward with the rate increase no matter what, what's the point of the public hearing?" Miller said.
"Everything our customers hear or say is on the record," Carter said. "It goes on the record."
He added: "Those commissioners are people like me, people like you. Like the people in the room, they're weighing all of that, taking that all in for their decisions."
If approved, the rate hike would start in February.
More information: Upcoming public hearing dates
Previous Stories: October 12, 2011: State group will decide on Duke's proposed rate hike October 12, 2011: Dozens protest Duke Energy rate hike