Most of us are too busy trying to make a living, raise our families, and take care of the many details of our lives to be able to follow every piece of legislation up for debate at the General Assembly.

We’re tending to important details that make a difference right here, right now.

Unfortunately, a bill is moving through the legislature that would make a very unpleasant difference in everyone’s day-to-day lives.

This is a bill that, if passed in its current form, would significantly raise your monthly power bill, give Duke Energy millions in extra profits annually, and set our state back many years in the effort to add money-saving competition to North Carolina’s energy market.

Senate Bill 559 is good for shareholders; bad for customers. It’s as simple as that.

The key portion of SB 559 will allow Duke to establish rate structures that would be set for years at a time, eliminating annual hearings where Duke’s costs — and the price it intends to charge its customers — are reviewed by the state Utilities Commission.

These types of structures, called “multi-year rates,” have been tried in other states — but SB 559 here in North Carolina is missing key guardrails that would protect customers.

One such missing guardrail is a mechanism to keep customers from missing out on bill refunds when Duke over-earns, which it has done nearly every year in its history, save for a few exceptions during economic recessions.

This missing guardrail could add up to as much as $140 million per year, which, when rates are set for three years at a time, totals $421 million Duke gets to pocket rather than return to customers. Good for shareholders, bad for customers.

Another missing guardrail is utility accountability. Passage of SB 559 would lead to less oversight in that it would allow Duke to increase rates annually without going through a full accounting of the utility’s previous year’s financial activities.

Coming in for hearings every three years opens the door for the utility to stack the deck in its own favor. Dominion has done this very thing in Virginia under a similar structure. It piles all of its costs into the third year of their three-year rate cycle, which is the year upon which the next three years of rates are set, unnecessarily increasing the amount of customer bills. Good for shareholders, bad for customers.

Utility regulatory reform is needed, that’s true. But SB 559 is not the kind of reform we need.

Changing the current system should be done in a way that protects low-income families and fixed-income seniors and anyone trying to keep the lights on.

When this bill comes to the floor for a vote, I hope every elected representative in the room will think of his or her constituents who are living paycheck to paycheck, who often have to choose between paying for medicine or food or the power bill. I hope they think of these folks and vote against SB 559. And if this bill passes and finds its way to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, I hope he vetoes it.

To all of our leaders in Raleigh, the choice is yours now. We’ll be praying for you to do the right thing — and watching closely if you don’t.

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The Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman of Greensboro is president of the North Carolina NAACP.

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