‘Kind of monopolizing’: Duke Energy faces pushback over higher electricity bills

Duke Energy customers are reaching out to Channel 9 with concerns over rising electricity rates, and some are even saying the rise is forcing them to choose between feeding the family or paying the power bill.

The company is planning on raising rates as high as 15% over the next few years. Channel 9 reporter Ken Lemon learned that the biggest hit in that rate increase may come with your next bill.

An eight percent increase went into effect last month -- Duke says for the average customer, that’s an increase of $10 a month. That will be followed by an additional $4 increase next January, and then another $4 the following year.

Some customers say that would be a reasonable increase on an average bill, but their bills aren’t average, according to those standards.

RELATED: Customers say bills doubled after Duke Energy rate increase

Thomas Cornwell of Gastonia told Lemon on Friday that the simple act of flipping a light switch makes him feel caged.

“Imprisoned, like they are going to take everything you got just because you might have to run a light bulb or cook or have air conditioning,” Cornwell said.

He lives in a modest home in the Smyre community. His most recent bill from December was %564, well above Duke Energy’s average power bill of $130. He said he’s not happy about talk of a 14% increase over three years.

“It would strap us so bad for cash we’d have to choose between power and food,” Cornwell told Lemon.

Cornwell is one of several people who have complained about issues with the power bill and a rate increase. Lemon spoke to Duke Energy media specialist Bill Norton about their concerns.

“We recognize there is never a good time to ask for a rate increase, which is why we actually hadn’t initiated a rate review request since 2019,” Norton told Lemon.

Norton said since 2019, the company has invested over $3.5 billion in improvements to shorten power outages. He says the rate increase will cover those costs and what he calls “effective changes.”

“Over the last five years, technology upgrades cut out about 400,000 outages,” Norton said.

SEE WHY: Layoffs hit Charlotte-based Duke Energy

According to Norton, the increases will also cover about $8 billion in more upgrades.

Meanwhile, Cornwell says the cost still hurts him. He says he feels like he has no options.

“They are kind of monopolizing it, because it ain’t like you can go to another power company or choose somebody else,” Cornwell said.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has filed a petition to overturn the rate increase, saying people are already swamped with rising prices. He made his appeal while finishing his term and making a pitch amid his run for governor.

Help with the bills

Duke Energy does offer special assistance for electricity bills, including payment plans or extensions.

There are also local and federal programs that can help with money, including the Share the Light Fund and federal energy bill assistance programs.

That includes:

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