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Duke Energy's proposed rate hike generates complaints

GRAHAM — About 100 people turned out for a public hearing Wednesday evening on Duke Energy’s proposed rate hike, very few of them supporters of an increase that’s said to cost the average residential customer about $97 more per year.

The hearing was the third of four being hosted by the N.C. Utilities Commission, which has the authority to grant the request in full, trim it or reject it.

Speakers from throughout the region criticized the increase because significant amounts would be spent cleaning up coal ash.

Some said the increase would be a hardship for Duke customers living on fixed incomes.

“Consider the people of Gibsonville who don’t have the means, who lost their pensions when the mills closed,” Gibsonville Mayor Leonard Williams implored.

John Merrell, a Triad AARP volunteer spokesman, said such increases are particularly hard on North Carolina’s increasing population of retirees.

At a news conference before the hearing, a half-dozen environmental and civic groups said it simply was not fair for Duke to stick customers with the cost of cleaning up a mess of the utility’s own making.

On its own and without customer involvement, the Charlotte-based utility made bad decisions to invest heavily in coal-fired plants and to store their waste in basins at a high risk of failure, critics said.

They believe the utility’s corporate executives and shareholders should shoulder the cost of ash cleanup at the Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County, the former Dan River Steam Station near Eden and six other current or retired coal-fired plants elsewhere in North Carolina.

“Why should the people who suffer the most pick up the tab for the people who profit the most?” asked David Hairston, who lives near the Belews Creek plant in Walnut Cove.

Duke Energy petitioned the Utilities Commission to approve the rate increase in late September, setting into motion a months-long process that included Wednesday’s public hearing and one in Charlotte tonight.

Public hearings also were held earlier this month in Franklin and Morganton, but they were more sparsely attended than Wednesday’s gathering.

Duke Energy executives and consultants argue that disposing of coal ash is a normal part of using the fossil fuel to make power, a cost customers should share.

While in disrepute now, storing ash in submerged basins was standard operating procedure for electric utilities nationwide in years past, one carried out under the direct supervision and approval of government regulators, Duke Energy asserts.

The company has said it wants “a net base rate increase in its retail revenues of approximately $445.3 million, which represents an approximate 9.2 percent increase in annual revenues.”

But that overall increase would be reduced by recent federal tax breaks worth $154.6 million, bringing the proposed burden for customers down to just less than $291 million, “which represents an approximate overall (six) percent increase,” Duke Energy has said.

The company has told the commission it would use the additional money to, among other things, “generate cleaner power” and “efficiently restore service to customers after major storm damage.”

Closed car dealership demolished

GREENSBORO — The former Gate City Lincoln-Mercury, which closed in 2011, is being torn down by GCMC Properties. GCMC bought the land from Gate City Motor Co. on Dec. 28 for $2.7 million, county real estate records show. GCMC Principal Will DuBose said in an email that clearing the buildings off the land “creates a unique 3.4 plus acre tract in downtown GSO that will be shovel ready for development.” Several developers have looked at the property in recent years, but it has remained vacant since the dealership closed. Zack Matheny, CEO of Downtown Greensboro Inc., an economic development agency, said the property would be perfect for mixed use with residential, potential office and retail or a restaurant. He said he is working closely with GCMC.

Find more photos and video at greensboro.com.

An interesting article in today's newspaper

Personal foul: Mike Krzyzewski’s rebuke of Duke students wasn’t the first — just the worst. Page C2