Recently in the news was the request by Duke Energy Progress to increase the cost of electrical charges for residential customers.
The proposed 12.5 percent (originally 13.1 percent) rate increase is being considered by the South Carolina Public Services Commission. That commission is made up of seven members, one from each of the seven congressional districts in South Carolina.
Home owners, electricity users, are being forced to pay that increase because there is no other supplier of electricity in their area. In our case, Duke Energy Progress has a state-approved monopoly.
If, for example, Exxon Mobile decided to increase the cost of a gallon of gasoline by 12.5 percent, customers would have the option of buying gasoline from a competing supplier. If Piggy Wiggly proposed an increase, the shopper has the option to shop elsewhere.
The same option is not available in the case of buying electrical service. We, the user of electrical service, have no alternative; Duke Energy Progress has a monopoly.
The South Carolina Public Services Commission exists with the responsibility to safeguard the public from unreasonable fee increases. That commission must review and approve or disapprove changes to the rates.
In this case, there are some interesting comparisons. In July of 2018, Duke Energy Progress proposed an increase of 7.1 percent for residential users in North Carolina. Now that same provider is suggesting a need for a 12.5 percent increase for residential users in South Carolina. Why the big difference?
In November 2018, Duke Energy Progress proposed a $5 dollar increase in the monthly bill for the average household in Eastern North Carolina. Much of the justification for that $5 increase was based on the effects related to hurricane damages. Is there a compelling justification of such a dramatic increase in rates in South Carolina? If there is, I have not been able to find it.
I have read the 2018 annual report authored by Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy chairman, president and chief executive officer. She reports how well the company is doing both financially and in meeting its commitment to its customers. To quote from her report, “In this year’s letter, I can report that our company of 30,000 employees is taking control and driving our transformation. In 2018, we delivered strong financial results. We made good progress on our plan to modernize our grid, generate cleaner energy and expand our natural gas infrastructure. And, most importantly, we focused on customers, charging ahead to meet their needs – whether restoring power after historic storms or offering new services and technologies.”
Additionally, she highlighted that “Our adjusted diluted earnings per share were $4.72 for the year – within the top half of our original guidance range. Our results continue to be driven by strong growth from our electric, natural gas and commercial renewables businesses. In addition, our long-term growth capital plan and cost management discipline continue to generate positive results.”
If things are going so well for Duke Energy, the parent company of Duke Energy Progress, why is there a need for a 12.5 percent increase? Some, maybe even many, of the users of electrical power provided by Duke Energy Progress are on fixed incomes, and a 12.5 percent increase could be very significant. Remember, as I mentioned earlier, they have no alternative to shop elsewhere. Duke Energy Progress has a monopoly in our area.
The only recourse we the public have is for the seven members of the South Carolina Public Services Commission to reject the rate increases proposed by Duke Energy Progress. If Duke Energy Progress has costs that it cannot cover, I suggest it look elsewhere to cover those costs. While a small one-time rate increase might be justified, a 12.5 percent increase this year, followed by other proposed increase in the coming years, is not small or acceptable and should not be approved.
For those on Social Security, the calculations for any annual increase are based on the calculations of individuals in Washington, D.C., based on their estimate of increases in the cost of living. This year the increase amounted to 2.8 percent. Those cost-of-living estimates don’t necessarily include those new expenses associated with other expenses, such as a new roof or new appliances or a new car. I am also confident they did not include a 12.5 percent increase in the cost of electricity in South Carolina.
Maybe what Duke Energy Progress needs to do is take a serious look at its planned expenses and find a way to pay for those without totally passing it on to the electrical user. Maybe 2.8 percent is the maximum amount Duke Energy Progress should be allowed to raise rates.
Another way Duke Energy could cover its expected increased expenses is to have the senior executives at Duke Energy, along with those at Duke Energy Progress, take a 12.5 percent reduction in their annual salary, just as they are proposing for the local electrical users on fixed incomes. Seems fair to me.