WASHINGTON – The head of Duke Energy recently suggested the monopoly utility generously passed along to customers the savings it received under the Trump corporate tax cut.
During an appearance on Yahoo! Finance’s program "Influencers with Andy Serwer," Duke’s president and CEO Lynn Good and Serwer discussed federal tax policy and how it affects the utility behemoth’s energy costs for its captive ratepayers.
Good claimed that Duke Energy has sent to its ratepayers the windfall it received from the 2017 federal corporate income tax cut signed into law by former President Trump.
“And so what I mean by that is when tax rates came down, I reduced the cost of electricity to my customers by over a billion dollars,” she said. “It did not stay in the corporate coffers of Duke Energy, it flowed right to customers.”
During the first three years of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by Trump, Duke paid, on balance, less than zero in federal income taxes on nearly $8 billion in revenue between 2018 and 2020, according to an analysis of the company’s tax records by the nonprofit Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
What Good failed to disclose in the Yahoo! Finance interview is that Duke is required by law to return any savings from tax cuts to customers. In keeping with its long-standing practice of squeezing customers, Duke filed a request with the North Carolina Utilities Commission, or NCUC, for permission to reimburse that money over 40 years, according to documents filed with the NCUC. (See page 56.)
The state’s regulatory commission largely ignored Duke’s request and cut the repayment period significantly, requiring the utility to refund customers within two to five years, and not the four decades it sought from regulators. (See page 17.)
“The only thing that concerns Ms. Good and Duke Energy is how to gouge its captive ratepayers at every opportunity,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Duke would have kept every dime it received through the corporate tax cut giveaway, and that’s exactly what they tried to do.
“The sad fact is Duke repeatedly pushes for and receives approval to jack up rates in order to pass along the costs of its failed fossil fuel and nuclear operations to its ratepayers. Duke has never and will never willingly invest in far cheaper and much safer renewable sources, like wind and solar, in order to adopt policies that lower monthly bills for customers.”
“Duke Energy advocating against raising corporate tax rates by claiming that doing so benefits its customers is laughable,” said Rory McIlmoil, senior energy analyst for Appalachian Voices. “In reality, at a time when Duke is raising rates, shutting off power to tens of thousands of struggling households for unpaid bills and delaying the needed transition to a lower cost, carbon-free energy system, Duke had attempted to keep the savings of the 2017 tax cuts from customers for the next few decades.”
McIlmoil and Cook and their respective groups are founding members of the Duke Energy Accountability Coalition, which will hold a hearing on May 4th to examine how Duke deploys greenwashing and other tactics to slow its transition to clean energy, and ignores what is needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate emergency.
During the same interview, Good warned energy costs for its captive customers could go up if President Biden is successful in his pledge to increase the corporate federal tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent.
“... if taxes rise it becomes something that we'll work with our regulators and customers on to try to minimize the impact,” said Good.
Since the 2017 tax cut for corporations went into effect, Duke has also sought monthly rate increases for its ratepayers in North Carolina and Indiana, and pressured lawmakers and regulators in the Tar Heel state to force taxpayers to cover a considerable portion of coal ash cleanup.
In March of this year, Duke’s subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas petitioned regulators in North Carolina for a 10.4 percent overall rate hike on customers, primarily to recover roughly $1.7 billion it has spent on natural gas infrastructure.
In another example of Duke’s treatment of ratepayers, it has cut off electricity for more than 60,000 low-income residents in North Carolina alone in the past couple of months since the state moratorium on shut-offs due to the coronavirus pandemic was lifted.
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.