Duke Wants To Raise Your Bill… For Dirty Coal

Guest Blog | October 7, 2009 | Coal, Energy Policy
Sign NC Conservation Network’s Petition Opposing Duke’s 18% Rate Increase TODAY!

Have you heard the news?  Duke Energy wants to raise customer utility bills… in part to pay for dirty coal.  Throughout September, the North Carolina Utilities Commission hosted public hearings around the state on the proposed Duke Energy rate increase. The conclusion of the hearing process will be the public and evidentiary hearing in Raleigh on Oct. 19th.  As part of this “rate hike,” Duke is asking the Utilities Commission to allow them to recover approximately $1 Billion in costs that were already incurred to-date for the construction of Cliffside Unit 6 and ensure the company an annual 12% increase in revenue.  If Duke were proposing a huge investment in clean energy, a rate increase might make some sense, but Duke’s customers ought not be stuck paying the tab for a dirty, dinosaur coal plant that Duke doesn’t need, especially in these hard economic times.

From Charlotte to Durham and Marion to Franklin, residents have packed the rooms to complain to Duke that this rate increase is unfair and too high.franklinhearing

On Thursday, Sept. 17th, I attended the public hearing in Marion on the proposed rate increase.  The anti-rate “hike” citizens turned out in full force (the local paper said over 150 people) to tell Duke Energy and the Utilities Commission that an 18% total rate increase on monthly utility bills is too high in this tough economy. A wide range of people attended, including the Marion City Manager and the Superintendent of McDowell County schools who emphasized that this rate increase would cost the schools over $123,000 next year – money that should be going to education, not to Duke Energy’s pockets.

A fired-up local ratepayer said, “Who is this increase going to hurt the most? Those who are already hurting the worst.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

The tough economy is one of the most salient arguments in this situation and to rub salt in an open wound, folks are particularly upset about the fact that Duke Energy is proposing to sell upwards of 1,000MW of power by 2019 out of state to South Carolina cooperatives. Duke’s Cliffside Unit 6 will be 825 MW and was originally approved under the agreement that its’ power was needed by in-state, NC residents. 1,000MW of power going out of state means that essentially none of the power from Cliffside is actually needed for in-state residents who are being asked to shoulder the burden of paying for this plant even before it is operational.  So, this rate increase is going to pay for power that we in North Carolina don’t need.

Yet another upset citizen at the Marion hearing said, “If South Carolina wants the power, let them pay for it!”

How is it legal that North Carolina Duke ratepayers have to pay for a power plant that isn’t even built yet?  The answer lies in a ncpowerplant2little-known provision of NC’s Senate Bill 3 of 2007 (the Renewable and Efficiency Portfolio Standard) that is otherwise known Construction Work In Progrress (CWIP). Unfortunately, this bill passed in part because of the CWIP provision, which legalizes the ability of utility companies (Duke and Progress) to recover any costs of constructing a facility – whether it becomes operational or not.  CWIP was, for years, actually illegal because many nuclear plants in the ’70s were so expensive they were never fully constructed, but the ratepayers shouldered all that financial burden.

Fortunately your voice still matters here — despite the law, the Utilities Commission still has to approve a rate increase and is only allowed to do so if the rate case is just and reasonable… through their mission statement, the NCUC is to “ensure just and reasonable electricity rates for the utility services for the public of North Carolina.”  They are also charged with promotion of the least cost energy planning and conservation around the state.  This rate increase is none of the above when you consider that it would pay for construction of an inherently dirty coal plant, which will cost the company over $2 Billion (ie. not least-cost planning), and Cliffside will contribute to the degradation of our state’s natural resources – through water and air pollution and the dirty toxic ash waste.

Moreover, the Cliffside coal plant will do nothing to capture carbon dioxide emissions from the facility. In a time in human history when we know that climate change is one of the most serious threats to our quality of life, it is simply irresponsible of Duke Energy to build another 6 million annual ton-emitter of carbon dioxide.

If you’re a Duke Energy ratepayer, please be sure to let Duke know what you think about their plan towrite_a_letter charge you 18% more on your monthly utility bill (the rate increases vary by customer class, please contact ulla[at]cleanenergy.org for more details) – come to the Raleigh hearing!  Comments can also be sent in written form to the Public Staff of the NC Utilities Commission: Mr. Robert P. Gruber, Executive Director, Public Staff, 4326 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4326. Include reference to the Docket # E-7 Sub 909.

To read about the results of the hearings or join an upcoming one, please visit StopCliffside.org.

Climate Progress posted their own blog on the topic of the rate hike as well.

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