Over the past two weeks, Duke Energy has dropped its effort to raise the mandatory fee that customers must pay every month before the customer flips on a light switch.

Duke Energy Progress had attempted to hike the fee from $9.06 to $29 – more than tripling the cost of basic access to electricity for customers.

On March 26, Duke Energy filed a brief letter revising its proposal to a still-burdensome 30 percent increase ($9.06 to $11.78).

Duke Energy’s revised monthly mandatory fee is still too high and places an unnecessary and costly burden on customers. Worse, it is based on an unjustified method of assigning costs to customers. If the fee hike isn’t firmly rejected now, Duke Energy might continue to push for hikes in the monthly mandatory fee.

While the new proposal is not as outrageous as the original, Duke Energy still uses a faulty justification for a fee that reduces customers’ control over their bill. The fee hike will hit low-usage customers the hardest – including seniors, low-income families, renters and those who conserve energy like solar customers and thrifty energy savers.

Our electric bills are made up of two parts: 1) the charge for the amount of electricity we use, and 2) the monthly mandatory fee that must be paid no matter how much energy we use or conserve. When more of the bill is placed into the mandatory monthly fee, our opportunity for controlling our energy costs and receiving financial savings from using less energy becomes more limited.

In essence, Duke Energy’s proposal still seeks to charge you more for using less, which is just plain backward.

While Duke Energy has taken steps in the right direction, we are gratified that legal challenges to the proposal are continuing, and customers still must speak out. We must demand that our Public Service Commission must reject Duke’s ill-conceived notion that the utility is entitled to make customers pay more for basic access to electricity than it actually costs to provide that access.

In fact, it is the standing policy of the South Carolina Public Service Commission that customers’ monthly fee should only be comprised of the costs for checking the meter, billing and providing a service drop from the distribution line. That is all it costs Duke Energy to connect a new customer to the grid.

Duke Energy’s proposed fee hike rests on the idea that customers also should be charged for an equal share of much of the equipment used to generate and deliver power to customers, regardless of how much power they actually use. This would be a change in South Carolina’s policy, and we are pleased that many consumers and advocates have stood with us to clearly reject this unjustified policy change.

Where will the fee hikes end? How much will be enough for Duke?

Electricity is a necessity – not a luxury. That is why it is wrong to make customers pay more than necessary in order to even access power.

Duke’s proposal is wrong for South Carolinians, which is why it is important that customers show up for the public hearings at 6 p.m. Monday at the Florence County Council Chamber in Florence and Tuesday at Nettles Auditorium at USC Sumter in Sumter and show our elected officials that Duke’s proposal must be defeated.

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Chris Carnevale is the coastal climate and energy manager for SACE (Southern Alliance for Cleaner Energy). Patrick Cobb, the communications and utility lead for AARP SC, contributed to this column.

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