As Duke Energy seeks 15 percent rate hike in North Carolina, a hint of what's to come in Florida
Wake up and good morning. We're just a few months away from Duke Energy's expected finalizing of its purchase of Progress Energy, and I find myself using one phrase over and over again anticipating the merger. Brace yourselves. If you thought electricity rates were going up briskly when Duke and Progress Energy operated as separate companies, just wait until their combined clout arrives.
Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers (photo, left) already has repeatedly said rates are going up a lot in the future. Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson (photo, right) has echoed those remarks, this month saying rates could rise for the next 10 to 20 years.
It's as if Rogers and Johnson are trying to out-duel each other in draconian rate warnings.
North Carolina is starting to see the reality of higher rates -- though I am amused since residential rates in North Carolina are lower than what Floridians pay Progress Energy.
Here's how the Charlotte Observer, hometown N.C. newspaper covering Duke Energy, captured the scene this week:
"An overflow crowd -- irate at Duke Energy's proposed 15 percent rate hike for North Carolina customers -- filled a Charlotte hearing Tuesday night before the N.C. Utilities Commission. More than 40 speakers took the microphone at the four-hour hearing, most of them attacking the proposal on one of two fronts.
"Some protested the impact of higher rates on customers already suffering in a troubled economy. Others insisted Duke needs more revenue for the wrong reasons: to continue burning fossil fuels and investing in nuclear power, instead of moving toward renewable energy. Many reminded commission members of Duke's financial heft as one of the nation's largest utilities, earning $1.3 billion and paying its chief executive $6.9 million in 2010."
It would be Duke's biggest rate hike in at least 20 years, if the N.C. Utilities Commission grants the request. But bet on this: It won't be its last hike.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times