Protesters angry over proposed Duke Energy rate hike

Holding signs saying “No Rate Hike” and “We Don’t Want to Pay for Duke’s Pollution,” a group of protesters said they don’t want their Duke Energy power bills to go up.

“Duke gets bailed out, we get sold out,” the group chanted outside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse Thursday, angry that the cost of coal ash cleanup is being passed down to consumers.

The protesters – made up of rate-payers, environmentalists and the NAACP – say they are worried about the effect a proposed 6.7 percent increase would have on the poor.

“I know many people that are homeless right now because they can’t afford their rent,” said Billie Taylor. “They can’t afford their Duke power. People that are cold. It’s just not right.”

More than 50 rate-payers attended an evening North Carolina Utilities Commission meeting at the courthouse. More than a dozen spoke out against the proposed rate hike. Some called it “immoral.”

“Say not to a rate increase that asks our citizens to pay for coal ash mismanagement,” one resident said.

“They boxed themselves in by putting profit before people for decades,” another added.

“I can’t decide to buy my electricity from someone else,” a rate-payer told the commission. “Because Duke has a monopoly and I have no choice.”

Duke Energy officials say, if passed, the rate increase would raise the average electricity bill by $8 from $108 a month to $116.

“You have made billions of dollars off the backs of people of this Mecklenburg County,” said Charlotte NAACP president Corine Mack. “There’s no need for you to give us the responsibility for your responsibility.”

That responsibility involves the largest cleanup of coal ash pollution in US history. Duke is closing its coal ash basins, which have been found to leak toxic waste in North Carolina waterways.

“Why should the cost of the cleanup be passed onto the residents?,” asked FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant.

“Duke Energy complies with state and federal regulations when it comes to managing its coal ash,” said Duke Energy spokesperson Meredith Archie. “And there’s a historical precedence that, when we comply with these types of regulations, we’re able to recover those costs from customers.”

Archie says the company is listening to customer concerns. A majority of the rate increase, she said, will go towards things that will benefit consumers – like investing in cleaner energy, installing smart meters and improving the reliability of its power grids and installing “self-healing” technology.

“We don’t take any increase in rates lightly,” she added.

Environmentalists want the company to invest more heavily in solar energy and renewable resources.

A decision on the rate hike proposal is expected to be made in August or September, Archie said.