NC Utility Rates Weigh Heavier on Consumers
RALEIGH, N.C. - Rising utility rates have consumer groups speaking up on behalf of North Carolinians. In the past nine years, Progress Energy raised rates by 25 percent. Duke Energy raised rates by 19 percent in just three years. With the recent merger of the utilities, there are concerns that rates could double in the next 10 years, according to Al Ripley with the NC Justice Center.
"Since our customers are dealing with a monopoly, we have to be very certain to have adequate safeguards against unnecessary rate increases. Currently, we're not getting strong enough protection from the utility commission."
Although approved, it will take about two years for the Duke Energy and Progress Energy merger to be in full effect. Progress is petitioning the state utilities board to allow it to increase rates by another 14 percent.
Pete McDowell is program manager for the consumer watchdog group NC Warn. He and others are also concerned about the business model of Duke and Progress Energy to charge industrial customers markedly less than residential customers. He points to the more than 10 server farms now in North Carolina and supplied electricity by Duke Energy, paying rates that are 50 percent less than other customers.
"Duke Energy has been very actively recruiting these big server farms and charging them very little and making residents and small businesses essentially subsidize their rates."
McDowell says many residents on a fixed income are having a difficult time paying their utility bills. There were 240,000 electric shutoffs by Progress Energy last year alone. The state's largest consumer group, AARP, is also concerned about the rate hikes and has a petition on its website at www.Action.AARP.org/NC.