Sometimes even a monopoly with political clout cannot ignore the angry voices of its customers crying foul. Duke Energy is apologizing about raising bills by $100 or more for many customers just by changing meter-reading routes and announced Wednesday it will give credits to those affected.
The changes had caused Duke to temporarily extend the billing cycles of up to 267,000 customers by up to 12 days, often triggering higher rates even if homeowners were using no more electricity than normal. The utility claimed a PSC rule allowed it but backed down after growing public complaints, strong words from legislators and even a raised eyebrow from the usually compliant PSC.
Yet the temporary billing fiasco is not the outrage that should provoke a public outcry. The real outrage is that Duke has the highest electric bills by far among the three large investor-owned utilities in the Tampa Bay area. The reason is largely tied to Duke's higher fuel costs and the $3 billion it is charging ratepayers for nuclear plants that were broken or never built.
Duke's high rates put homeowners and businesses in Pinellas County and throughout its service area at a competitive disadvantage with their neighbors. They make the cost of running households and businesses more expensive. They make it harder to attract new residents and jobs.
It's great that consumers and lawmakers raised their voices to force Duke to correct its billing debacle. That is a short-term win. Now where is the demand from the public and policymakers for Duke to address an unfairness that is far more expensive and has longer-term consequences to the region's economy?