Duke Power wants to increase profits and fund environmental destruction on the backs of working and poor people in North Carolina by instituting a “15% rate hike”–which is actually 17.5% for residential class customers, and according the Greensboro News and Record, will actually increase bills by 20% for many people.
Duke Power has tried to paint itself as the victim, with director of government and community affairs Tim Gause citing a “perfect storm” of needing to retire old plants while building new ones during a recessed economy. What Gause failed to mention was that last year, Duke Power raked in over $1.3 billion in profits and increased the pay of CEO Jim Rogers 25% to $6.9 million. The narrative presented by the company about the rate increase being linked to the state of the economy is also undermined by their open admission of planning to continue rate increases for the next 10 to 20 years, and by stating they already intend to ask for a rate hike next year. The state of the economy is a smokescreen. Duke Power intends to increase its profit margin by whatever means necessary, working people be damned.
And speaking of the shitty economy, the people who are really experiencing a “perfect storm” are the working people of North Carolina. Reported unemployment in the state is now at 10.4%, much higher than the national average, and unemployment in metropolitan areas is even higher, with reported figures at 11% or more. In addition, the looming threat of further austerity measures–including the post office cuts–means that heading into winter, welfare and assistance programs could be receiving an ax at any moment and jobs–especially jobs that will allow us to afford our winter heating bills–will be even harder to come by.
It’s also not as though energy bills were affordable before. Sure, Duke Power does have lower rates than many power companies in the country, but North Carolinians also have much lower incomes. Elizabeth Kincaid, a human services worker in Charlotte, said that during the summer, which in North Carolina can be as dangerously hot as the winters are dangerously cold, people were turning down free fans because they worried about increased electricity bills. Margo, an unemployed Greensboro resident and single mother of two, says that although she receives $200 in heating assistance, her winter electric bills can already top $450/month, and with a rate increase, she’s not sure what she’ll do.
What Duke didn’t count on this time was resistance.
On October 11, an overflow crowd in Charlotte jammed the rate hike hearing, which lasted four hours. In addition, 30 people picketed outside the meeting, “dramatizing the impact of higher rates on customers, and the health and environmental costs of Duke’s reliance on coal and nuclear power.” It is increasingly becoming clear how the continual pursuit of unsafe and non-renewable power sources that are pushing our planet over the precipice of disaster are directly linked to the continued dominance of corporations and capital, and that the fight for fair energy costs in working class communities is intimately connected to the fight against coal and nuclear power. This development means that we have increased strength to first fight off this rate hike and then to fight for a renewable energy infrastructure in North Carolina.
The next community hearing on the rate hike is set for October 27–this Thursday–in High Point (the southern city of the Greensboro–Winston Salem–High Point Triad). Both Occupy Greensboro and Occupy Winston-Salem are planning to protest and jam the meeting. For more information, visit occupygreensboro.org.
Duke Power’s CEO got a 25% pay increase last year. Let’s give him a 100% pay cut this year.