Updated July 12, 2019
The power of collaboration and advocacy led to a big win this spring! When Duke Energy proposed a triple increase in monthly mandatory fees, citizens spoke up and got results.
The proposed increase would have been a tremendous burden on our most vulnerable citizens and would have virtually killed renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.) in the state. SCIPL partnered with Sustaining Way, AARP, Consumer Reports, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) to educate and mobilize citizens. The #HaltDukesHike campaign action involved over 1,000 people attending five public hearings with the Public Service Commission, sending 1,100 letters of protest, and collecting over 500 signatures on a petition.
Public pressure and expert testimony, as well as a PSC ruling, led to Duke scaling back the fee from an increase of $19.71 to a much smaller increase of only $3.67 per month.
Rick Joye of Sustaining Way and SCIPL notes that “While it took a lot of pressure from stakeholders and advocates from around the state, we are thankful that the state’s largest utility, Duke Energy, backed off its plan to triple its mandatory monthly fee, avoiding the overwhelming burden for lower income individuals to suddenly owe $336 per year before even turning on a light! Realizing that utility bills continue to become increasingly unaffordable, Sustaining Way and SCIPL will continue to fight for our most vulnerable residents.”
“The fee hike initially proposed by Duke was to more than triple the current monthly fee that South Carolina customers must pay before using any electricity–from $8-9 per month to $28-29 per month,” Chris Carnevale, the Coastal Climate and Energy Manager with SACE explains. “If it were approved, it would have been the highest mandatory monthly fee of any investor-owned utility (IOU) in the nation.”
South Carolina AARP requested five public hearings throughout Duke’s service territories, which the PSC granted. The hearings took place in Spartanburg, Anderson, Greenville, Florence, and Sumter, and nearly all of which turned out beyond-capacity crowds, with dozens of customers articulately explaining how the proposed fee hike would cause harm.
The primary themes that came out in the customers’ testimony were: 1) hiking the mandatory monthly fee would have a terrible impact on low-income and fixed income customers 2) hiking the mandatory monthly fee would unfairly punish customers who reduce their conventional energy use through energy efficiency or solar energy use; 3) customers suffer while Duke shareholders profit and executives enjoy lavish compensation, and 4) [at the Florence and Sumter hearings] farmers would be negatively impacted by the fee hike.
The letters of protest are featured in a blog series here.
Patrick Cobb of AARP, SC said, “More than 1,000 ratepayers turned out at hearings and raised their voices in opposition to an excessive increase for basic electric service. It is gratifying that the Public Service Commission took to heart the testimony and personal stories that these ratepayers shared. The scaled back fees are due to the presence and pressure from ratepayers.”
Shannon Baker-Branstetter, manager of cars and energy policy for Consumer Reports, said, “We applaud the Commission for listening to ratepayers and standing up to unfair fee hikes. This should send a message to utilities across the country that, if you try to hit your ratepayers with huge fee increases to cover failed investments, it can backfire, especially when your CEO is making more than $20 million a year.”
Holley Ulbrich of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina said, “The League of Women Voters is an organization dedicated to active citizen participation in government, including its regulatory functions. This response to the rate hike proposal was grassroots democracy at its best. Citizens participated, regulators listened, and the result was a decision that balanced the interests of all stakeholders.”