Power brokers

by YES! Staff

Power brokers

In October 2011, Duke Energy petitioned the state for a 17 percent increase in electricity rates for all its North Carolina residential customers. This was just after an 8 percent rate hike kicked in the year before. To discuss the proposal with citizens, Duke held a public hearing in High Point, a city that provides its own power, off the Duke grid.

Fortunately for its 1.8 million NC residential customers, Duke’s 17 percent bid was denied, and though a 7 percent rate increase was approved in January 2012, Attorney General Roy Cooper has been fighting it. The state Supreme Court heard arguments about the rate increase in November.

Meanwhile, Duke filed another rate-increase request with the NC Utilities Commission earlier this month.

This should come as a surprise to no one. Duke is a corporation — with its acquisition of Progress Energy last year, it became the largest utility company in the country. And though as a utility its function is to provide a necessary service to its customers, in actuality it exists to make a profit for its executives and sharehold ers, just like every other publicly traded corporation in existence. But this corporate greed, which is a natural function of the market, is not supposed to go unchecked. Government entities like the utilities commission and the Supreme Court, along with officials like Cooper, are charged with defending the interests of the people in the face of corporate lust for profit and acquisition.


It worked — to a degree — under former Gov. Bev Perdue, though no one besides Cooper seemed wise to Duke’s strategy of simply asking for more than it wanted and “settling” for less on the comeback.

But under our new Republican governor, Pat McCrory, and his sympathetic General Assembly, there is cause for concern.

McCrory is a former Duke executive, serving 28 years with the company. The AARP and NC WARN, an environmental watchdog group, has already asked McCrory to recuse himself from appointments to the utilities commission because of this conflict of interest. McCrory has not recused himself as of yet.

He also has named John Skvarla, a corporate lawyer, as head of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources. As head of DENR, Skvarla is in charge of regulating Duke’s power plants across the state — 14 of which have groundwater contamination. Instead he seems more concerned with drilling for oil off the state’s coast and selling the idea that fossil fuels are a renewable resource, citing a long discredited theory about how oils is formed below the Earth’s surface.

And then there are McCrory’s remarks during his inauguration last week.

“Government should not be a barricade or an obstacle to progress,” he said, adding later, “Government must work with business as partners — not against them as adversaries — to identify and eliminate burdensome taxes, rules and regulations that stifle economic growth.”

Elections have consequences, to be sure. And it’s a safe bet that one of the consequences of this last one will be that Duke energy will get everything it wants.

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