10/12/17 — Residents rebuke proposed Duke Energy rate increase

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Residents rebuke proposed Duke Energy rate increase

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 12, 2017 5:50 AM

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Barbara Dantonio, second from right, was among the nearly 30 people to testify Wednesday night before the N.C. Utilities Commission during a public hearing at the Greene County Courthouse in Snow Hill on Duke Energy's request for a rate increase.

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Charles Wright, right, of Goldsboro, speaks during a protest rally in front of the Greene County Courthouse Wednesday night prior to the start of a public hearing on Duke Energy's request for a rate increase.

SNOW HILL -- An undercurrent of mistrust of Duke Energy and state government marked Wednesday night's public hearing on the company's request for a 17 percent rate increase.

It was marked as well by indignation that Duke customers are being asked to pay for what speakers called the company's mishandling of coal ash created by coal-burning plants to produce electricity.

And they decried that the increase comes at a time when many are still struggling to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Matthew.

They questioned as well why the company that has reported large profits over the past several years needs even more money.

For existing residential customers, the proposed rates -- excluding the effects of all riders -- would change the bill of a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours a month.

The company wanted the proposed rates to become effective on July 1, 2017. However, the N.C. Utilities Commission has issued an order suspending the proposed rate changes for a period of up to 270 days from July 1, 2017.

Currently that customer would pay $104.68. Under the proposal the bill would increase by $17.80 to $122.48 (or 17 percent).

The dollar amount and percentage change will vary with each customer's level of electricity usage.

The increases include a basic customer charge increase from $11.13 to $19.50 for most residential customers.

The Down East Coal Ash Coalition held a press conference in front of the courthouse prior to the public hearing.

"We can't drink coal ash. Recycle that trash. We can't drink coal ash," they chanted.

Nearly a third of the approximately 90 people at the hearing held in the Greene County Courthouse signed up to speak -- several of them from the Goldsboro area.

Speaker after speaker testified before the N.C. Utilities Commission that while Duke officials might say the increase is less than $20 a month, the increase would force some to have to decide between paying the bill and buying food or even medicine.

"Hey, they are going to make money off this coal ash, and yet they are wanting to charge us the rate hike for something they did," said Johnny Gurley, who lives near the company's H.F. Lee Plant. "It's amazing to me that coal ash, and protesters against it are the reason they are wanting to raise the rates. It's amazing.

"They say coal ash does not contaminate the water. Yet (former) Gov. (Pat) McCrory fined Duke twice for letting the coal ash go into the Neuse River, into the city water. It is still going into the Neuse via Hurricanes Matthew, Floyd, rainstorms, whatever."

Whatever Duke wants, it seems to get, regardless, he said.

"I'm talking to get water where they contaminated the wells. 'Oh, we didn't do it. It happens naturally.' It is amazing to me their test wells were found contaminated, too. It's the same old story. The rich get richer. Live in their ivory towers and do not care about the poor infants and elderly which this is going to affect -- the rate hike. The coal ash."

Barbara Dantonio, of Goldsboro, said that it is the job of the big guys (Duke) to say what they needed to say to get the increase approved.

She told commission members they represent the "little people."

"I think it is important to have some accountability," she said. "We didn't make the mess, and we shouldn't be responsible for cleaning it up."

Dantonio said she is retired and on a fixed income.

The $20 increase is $240 a year or almost $1,000 over four years, she said.

"And that is a lot of money," Dantonio said. "So, I am asking you to think about the little guy, all the people here, and be honest with yourself."

Duke wants to increase its rates and charges to produce additional overall annual North Carolina retail revenues of approximately $477.5 million -- an increase of approximately 14.9 percent over current revenues.

Duke says the additional revenue is needed to cover the costs relating to:

* New plant construction and upgrades ($253 million).

* Meeting federal and state rules regarding the handling of coal ash and closure of coal ash basins ($195 million).

* Tax rate changes, purchased power costs related to its obligations to purchase renewable energy (required by federal law), storm related costs, nuclear development costs, and an updated Customer Information System ($29 million).

Duke also argues that since its last general rate case in 2013, it has been adding new gas-fueled generation, along with adding new utility-scale solar facilities, to replace older, less-efficient coal-fired generation.

Another hearing in Wilmington will be held at 7 p.m. tonight at the New Hangover County Courthouse, 316 Princess St., Wilmington.

The commission also has scheduled an evidentiary hearing for 1 p.m., Monday, Nov. 20, to hear expert witness testimony from Duke Energy Progress, the Public Staff - North Carolina Utilities Commission, and any other parties to the proceeding

It will be held in Commission Hearing Room 2115, Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Customers who were unable attend any of the first five public hearings may testify at that meeting.