• Duke customers worried about possible rate hike: 'We're not doormats'

    By: Liz Foster , Paul Boyd

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Dozens of Duke Energy customers raised concerns Tuesday night about the company's proposed double-digit rate increase at a public hearing held by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

    At one point, the courtroom inside the Mecklenburg County courthouse was at capacity and deputies would not let anyone else in.

    “It’s already too hard for low-income folks to even make it here in Charlotte,” said Duke customer Callina Satterfield.

    The price hike could add an average of $18 to Duke Energy customers’ monthly bills. It’s particularly concerning for those on fixed incomes, including Richie Johnson. She said, “There’s no way with Social Security I can afford $19 more" every month.

    [RELATED: Duke Energy, watchdog dealing on rate increase]

    Company officials are asking regulators to approve the increased rates to help pay for coal ash cleanup and the transition to cleaner energy.

    "We know that raising rates is something that's not popular, and there are certain people that are on fixed incomes and certainly have a tough time meeting their monthly budgets. We understand that. We're committed to keeping our rates as low as possible," Duke Energy spokesperson Tim Pettit said.

    Before the hearing, protestors gathered outside of Duke Energy’s headquarters and chanted, “Hey dirty Duke, clean up your own mess!”

    Last week, Channel 9 reported on a rally in Durham where protesters gathered to voice their concerns about Duke’s proposal.

    [RELATED: Duke Energy to discuss significant rate hike for customers in hearing]

    Attorney General Josh Stein also sent a letter to Duke, asking it to lower rates instead of raising them. Stein said the new federal tax breaks for corporations that were just passed last month will already save the company millions of dollars.

    Large companies including Apple, Facebook and Google are also fighting against the proposed rate increase. They all have data centers in North Carolina that are powered by Duke.

    Duke’s unlined coal ash pits have been an issue for residents in Belmont near the company’s Allen Steam Station, who have been using bottled water for more than 1,000 days.

    Neighbors of the pits went to court after Duke officials said that $5,000 "goodwill" payments required them to give up future health claims linked to contaminated well water.

    The lawsuit was dropped last week, and Duke officials posted an online clarification saying that people taking the payments couldn't sue over health claims, but children who blame groundwater pollution for health problems would not be barred from suing.

    Duke officials maintain that there is no evidence that toxic metals contaminating water wells are from coal ash basins.

    Shirley Harris, 73, is a grandmother who lives on a fixed income in a modest home in northwest Charlotte and already struggles with energy costs.

    Harris
    believes the proposed rate increase for residential customers around Charlotte is outrageous.

    “I think it’s important that we stand up and say, ‘No. We’re not doormats. We’re not going to let you run over us,'” Harris said. “We’ll have to do without something to pay these bills. It’s just really tough financially.”

    Duke Energy spokesman Tim Pettit agreed to discuss the intense criticism his company is facing hours
    before the hearing.

    “These are costs. These are investments that we have made,” Pettit said. “We certainly understand that any rate increase is tough on our customers, and we’re committed to balancing all of these inputs as best we can.”

    Many protesters and customers like Harris are convinced the rate increase is primarily intended to make up for the 2014 Dan River coal ash spill and costly cleanup.

    Duke Energy officials said its customers are not paying for any of the Dan River spill.

    “What we’re asking customers to do in this rate case
     is pay for the closure of those ash basins that exist at all our fossil-fired power plants across our system,” Pettit said.

    About 50 percent of the rate increase will go toward the safe disposal of coal ash at dozens of decommissioned Duke Energy plants.

    “Duke Energy needs to learn to reach into their own pockets to pay for the trash they created and stop trying to reach into their customers' pockets,” said Belmont resident Amy Brown, whose family has been living on bottled water provided by Duke for more than 1,000 days.

    The North Carolina Utilities Commission is left to weigh the needs of a regulated monopoly with the frustration from many of its customers.

    The commission is holding an evidentiary hearing, in which both sides will present their case, in Raleigh on Feb. 27.

    The final decision on a rate increase is expected from the commission by late spring.


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    Neighbors of the pits went to court after Duke officials said that $5,000 "goodwill" payments required them to give up future health claims linked to contaminated well water.

    The lawsuit was dropped last week, and Duke officials posted an online clarification saying that people taking the payments couldn't sue over health claims, but children who blame groundwater pollution for health problems would not be barred from suing.

    Duke officials maintain that there is no evidence that toxic metals contaminating water wells are from coal ash basins.

    Shirley Harris, 73, is a grandmother who lives on a fixed income in a modest home in northwest Charlotte and already struggles with energy costs.

    Harris believes the proposed rate increase for residential customers around Charlotte is outrageous. 

    “I think it’s important that we stand up and say, ‘No.’ We’re not doormats. We’re not going to let you run over us,” Harris said.  “We’ll have to do without something to pay these bills. It’s just really tough financially.”

    Duke Energy spokesman Tim Pettite agreed to discuss the intense criticism his company is facing hours before the hearing. 

    “These are costs. These are investments that we have made,” Pettite said. “We certainly understand that any rate increase is tough on our customers, and we’re committed to balancing all of these inputs as best we can.”

    Many protesters and customers like Harris are convinced the rate increase is primarily intended to make up for the 2014 Dan River coal ash spill and costly cleanup.  Duke Energy officials said its customers are not paying for any of the Dan River spill. 

    “What we’re asking customers to do in this rate case is pay for the closure of those ash basins that exist at all our fossil-fired power plants across our system,” Pettite said. 

    About 50 percent of the rate increase will go toward the safe disposal of coal ash at dozens of decommissioned Duke Energy plants. 

    The North Carolina Utilities Commission is left to weigh the needs of a regulated monopoly with the frustration from many of its customers. 

    The final decision on a rate increase is expected from the commission by late spring. 

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