Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Romano: Duke Energy billing switch is latest sign it doesn't care

Sticking customers with about $1.5 billion in bills for a nuclear plant in Levy County that everyone knew would never be built is pretty bad, I'll admit.

And, yes, socking customers with another $1.7 billion or so for the Crystal River nuclear plant that was closed due to self-inflicted wounds is pretty sketchy, too.

But I'm starting to wonder if Duke Energy has taken greed, deceit and ruthlessness to new heights with its latest scheme to weasel its way into your wallet.

Now, I'll admit the financial implications of Duke's new billing switcheroo are peanuts compared to the nuclear fiascos of recent years, but in some ways this episode is almost grander for its sheer audacity and lack of remorse.

Because — and I don't think I am being unfair — there is no spin, excuse or rationalization that can possibly justify Duke's newest outrage.

"In the past, I may have been guilty of not being as aggressive as I should have been when it came to some of these issues,'' said state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. "I've always considered (Duke) a good, local company and tried to give them the benefit of the doubt.

"No more.''

So what was the kilowatt that finally tipped the switch?

In the name of efficiency, Duke changed its billing cycle for as many as 267,000 customers recently, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times' Ivan Penn. Instead of the bill coming at the end of 30 days, Duke waited 40 days or more for a lot of customers.

The problem with this is that the cost per kilowatt you pay is based on how much electricity you use in a billing cycle. So people who had an extra 10 to 12 days tacked on to their bills were being charged at a higher rate than normal. It's kind of like being stuck in a higher tax bracket because the IRS decided to count 15 months' worth of income.

The complaint is not that Duke decided to change its billing cycles; it's that Duke didn't adjust bills once it forced customers into higher rate categories.

Or, you could boil it down this way:

1. Customers did nothing wrong.

2. Duke could not care less.

You could argue this was a one-time change and everything will be back to normal next month. I would argue that you're missing the point.

Duke does whatever Duke wants to do.

That's the real problem. Energy companies in this state have no fear and no reason to play fair. Lawmakers have sold their constituents out in the name of campaign donations.

Every once in a while, a Mike Fasano or a Dwight Dudley or a Latvala will shout about the absurdities, but their voices echo through the empty conscience of the state capital. At this point, any lawmaker not screaming is either gutless or in cahoots. Or maybe just clueless.

Gov. Rick Scott could also put a halt to this by empowering the Public Service Commission, but he, too, seems entirely comfortable in the hip pocket of big-business interests.

So the question becomes:

What are you prepared to do?

Are you going to continue voting for politicians who have pledged their loyalty to the corporate bigwigs and out-of-state interests instead of the folks back home? Are you going to demand answers from your elected officials?

Are you going to sit still while your electric company plays you for a chump?

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