Duke CEO Threatens Action Against South Carolina Customers After Officials Vote Down Steep Rate Hike
Bullying follows scathing report on Duke’s tactics to punish ratepayers, undermine renewables
WASHINGTON – The head of Duke Energy, the largest investor-owned electric utility in the country, threatened to pull back future investments in customer services in South Carolina after state regulators voted to cut the steep rate hike proposed by the utility.
During a conference call this week with Wall Street analysts, Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good – employing bullying tactics after regulators lowered Duke’s requested return on investment for its stockholders – said the utility’s South Carolina subsidiary, Duke Energy Progress, or DEP, will “closely evaluate further investing in the state” and “will evaluate the placement of our capital where it’s attractive to invest.”
Duke’s arrogant attitude was likely a reaction to its loss across the board on key issues in the company’s bid to raise South Carolinians’ electric bills to excessive levels.
Earlier this week, commissioners on the South Carolina Public Service Commission, or PSC, voted unanimously to scale back significantly the rate hike proposed by DEP that would have jacked up the monthly fee to $29 for the state’s residential customers. Commissioners instead supported a far smaller monthly increase of $2.72.
The PSC also correctly voted to prohibit Duke from recovering more than $600 million from its customers for coal ash cleanups in the Palmetto State, where Duke is currently fighting a state order requiring it to excavate coal ash at its North Carolina power plants. Like any other company, Duke should be responsible for its long, widespread legacy of environmental pollution.
The unanimous decision by PSC came after more than 1,100 Duke customers sent letters opposing the proposed rate increases. More than 500 people signed petitions, and four out of five public hearings across the state were standing room only, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
“Ms. Good’s bullying threats to residents of South Carolina should come as no surprise: Duke Energy is only interested in maximizing profits on the backs of its customers while undermining renewable energy efforts and clinging to dirty and dangerous fuel sources,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “It is EWG’s hope that the ratepayer revolt that sprung up in South Carolina will spread to other states in the Duke servitude area. Correction: service area.”
Last week, EWG, NC WARN, Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana and Ohio Citizen Action released the results of a year-long investigation into Duke’s strategies and actions throughout its multiple service territories, including South Carolina. The state-specific details in the report document Duke’s rampant gouging of its ratepayers, shutting down of renewable energy incentive programs, puny investments in clean energy and deplorable environmental record.
Among the details of Duke’s operations in South Carolina in the report were:
- In November 2018, the two utilities in the Carolinas, Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress, separately asked South Carolina regulators for major increases in their flat monthly customer charges. Duke Energy Carolinas sought an increase from $9.06 to $29, and Duke Energy Progress argued for an increase from $8.29 to $28.
- Duke has relentlessly pushed state regulators to let it implement tactics to punish customers for going solar or investing in energy efficiency.
- In South Carolina, Duke derailed 2018 legislation that would have lifted the cap limiting net metering to customers representing 2 percent of utility sales. The state hit the cap that summer, causing new solar adopters to receive less compensation for their contributions to the grid.
- In 2018, coal-fired power plants generated about 31 percent of Duke’s electricity. Nuclear reactors supplied about 33 percent, and 34 percent came from plants burning natural gas or fuel oil. Solar and hydro power supplied 2 percent. Duke owns no wind power in its regulated territories, which includes South Carolina.
- In the Carolinas, renewables provide only about 3 percent of Duke’s electricity generation. By 2033, that is projected to increase to just 8 percent. Nationally, renewable energy accounts for nearly 20 percent of all electricity generation.
Yet the capacity for renewables in Duke’s territories is huge. The technical potential for wind off the North Carolina coast is almost five times what the state’s power plants currently supply to the grid, and off the South Carolina coast, almost eight times more.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.