Concerned customers pack Duke Energy rate hike meeting

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SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) – Duke Energy customers had a lot to say about a proposed increase to their power bills. 

A packed room of people made their case before the Public Service Commission of South Carolina Tuesday in Spartanburg. 

The meeting lasted three and a half hours, including two breaks.

“I’m mad, and I think everybody in this room is mad,” James Overton told the commission. 

Emotions were high as Duke Energy customers tried to prevent their power bills from going up.

“I take care of my mother. She’s 74 years old,” Robyn Conner said. “I went and got solar panels to reduce my power bill. Now you’re telling me because of that you’re going to increase my rates? It’s not right.”

The state Public Service Commission has scheduled public hearings on Duke Energy’s proposal to increase its rates and charges.

Duke officials have asked to raise average residential rates by 12.1 percent to generate clean power, deal with coal ash basins, and improve service.

“Thank you for letting the people who are directly affected be a part of this conversation,” said Heather Soto. 

It was standing room only as customers spoke against the rate increase.

“Power is not a luxury. There are people who are on medication. There are people who are taking care of elderly parents,” Phylicia Barno Byrd said. 

AARP spokesman Patrick Cobb says older people on fixed incomes have it hard enough.

“Especially with the basic facilities charge increase that they’re proposing going from $8.29 to $28, it’s just totally absurd,” Cobb said. 

Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said the charge is intended to cover the cost of the facilities the utility installed to deliver electricity to a customer’s home. 

“These costs do not vary with usage. Therefore, it makes sense the cost of these facilities is recovered through a fixed charge. Duke Energy is asking to increase this charge because historically the basic facilities charge hasn’t covered all of the fixed costs incurred to deliver electricity,” Mosier said in a statement to 7News. “If only the change in the basic facilities charge is approved in this request, the increase in the charge will be offset by a decrease in the price per kilowatt hour, which means the overall bill for a customer with average usage should stay the same.”

Customers told commissioners Tuesday that many South Carolinians already struggle financially. 

“We can’t afford it, you know,” Sandra Boykin said. “We can’t.”   

Some say it makes their energy saving efforts less valuable.

People also talked about days-long power outages and suggested the utility could do cut-backs of its own given its leaders’ salaries are in the millions.

Ultimately, the commission decides what customers will pay.

“Jesus would tell you that this is not right,” Byrd said.

Commissioners asked some customers questions and referred them to representatives for additional assistance serving certain problems.

Two more public meetings will be held in the Upstate. 

Meetings are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Anderson County Council Chambers, and another meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Greenville County Council Chambers. 

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