This evening, I made the following comments to the North Carolina Utilities Commission at a hearing in Hillsborough regarding proposed Duke Energy rate increases:
“With more and more funding cuts being made at state and federal levels, North Carolina’s towns, cities, counties, and school districts must provide vital services on increasingly constrained budgets. Fashionable fiscal austerity policies in Raleigh are shifting the burden to local governments, and many have found they must raise taxes to maintain services and quality of life.
“So far, my town has been relatively fortunate. We have been able to avoid property tax increases for the past few years. But, like other municipalities, we have done this in part by postponing much needed maintenance and improvement of infrastructure and equipment.
“Another rate increase by Duke Energy will mean higher costs for local governments. A major cost for a town like Carrboro, and the single largest source of the town’s municipal carbon dioxide emissions, is street lighting. In addition to a large rate hike for residential customers, Duke Energy is proposing an increase in lighting costs, even while neglecting to make it easier for municipalities to lease high-efficiency lighting infrastructure. So another rate increase will hit Duke’s residential customers doubly hard, both directly through their power bills and indirectly through their municipal taxes.
“We also should not overlook the fact that today, about two hours ago, Orange County declared a state of emergency in response to Sunday’s catastrophic flooding that displaced dozens of our neighbors. Not surprisingly, many of those most affected by the flooding are lower-wealth residents who have limited resources and social support networks to assist them through this crisis — the same people who will be burdened by bigger electric bills. Once again, it is our local governments, along with nonprofit agencies, that will bear the costs of providing services to those in need.
“We know, unequivocally, that we can expect more of these kinds of emergencies. Global climate change is here, and the odds have changed to make extreme weather events more likely.
“Duke Energy and other electric utility providers should be giving priority to energy efficiency and conservation. Instead, we have been presented with a plan that aims to achieve the opposite.
“This is not the time to put greater pressure on North Carolina’s towns and cities. Duke Energy should be asked to tighten its belt just like everyone else. Instead, Duke is seeking yet another rate increase to pay for dirty, dangerous, and costly forms of energy production that its customers don’t need.”