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Duke Energy customers plead for Indiana utility regulators to reconsider price hikes

Duke Energy's Gibson coal plant
Rebecca Thiele
IPB News
Some Duke Energy customers are fighting against a recent price hike proposal. Some customers argued that plants like Duke's Gibson's coal plant are low-performing and losing money.

Some Duke Energy customers are fighting against a recent price hike proposal. The electric utility is asking state regulators to approve almost $500 million in new rate increases – which would raise the average customer’s bill by about $27 a month.

Customers and advocates expressed their concerns about these rate increases in front of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and Indiana Office of the Utility Consumer Counselor on Thursday.

Amanda Cross lives in Carmel and has been a Duke customer for 16 years. She said the proposed rate increases put the burden of Duke’s energy decisions on customers.

“What happens when people have to choose between getting their prescription medication and keeping the AC running so they don't die of heat exhaustion, and the heat domes that Duke itself has helped to create?” Cross said. “Duke Energy alone has chosen this expensive and polluting approach.”

She said Duke’s coal plants in the state have lost millions of dollars, and feels Duke continues to profit despite this by raising customer rates.

The Sierra Club, a statewide energy advocate, slammed these price increases since they were proposed. In April, the group said two of Duke Energy’s plants – the Edwardsport coal gasification plant and the Gibson plant – have lost revenue and remain environmental hazards.

Other Hoosiers shared concerns about the environmental consequences of the company’s reliance on fossil fuels during this hearing. Susan Schechter is a Duke customer who has several children and grandchildren also in the state.

“As a grandmother, I beg you to consider the impacts of your decisions on our children and grandchildren,” she said. “Duke is Indiana's largest utility and the furthest behind in transitioning to renewable energy.”

Schechter said if trends continue in this direction, her grandchildren will not be able to enjoy summer days due to dangerous weather conditions.

That's the super unfortunate that that our children and grandchildren will not have the option of spending long summer days outdoors just kicking around because it will be dangerous,” she said.

A Duke Energy spokesperson said previously the company was looking into cleaner energy options, but needed to use fossil fuels to ensure reliability in energy.

READ MORE: Indiana’s largest electric utility submits request to raise electric bills

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Residents, though, are still wary about these options. Dorothy Keyes has lived in the Indianapolis area for more than 40 years and works in information technology. She said she is aware of the increased need for energy for consumers, but the new money requested by the utility should be placed in renewable energy.

“Any new money requested should not be put into coal,” she said. “It should only be put into clean energy. We need to do this for our future to survive.”

Chris Neel is a president of a Fishers homeowner’s association. He urged the IURC and OUCC to intervene on Duke’s request and demand more information.

“We need transparency and accountability,” he said. “So how are these funds going to be used? Specifically, clearly articulated. And we need, we deserve, to know what are they going to do with this?

Joshua Lowry is a Westfield resident and is challenging Rep. Donna Schaibley (R-Carmel) for her Indiana House seat. He said Duke’s rate hikes would affect Hoosiers – as energy costs are not a choice.

“When I go to the store, I get to make the decision whether I'm going to buy something or not,” he said. “Here, Duke is asking the government to enforce their profit.”

Hoosiers can submit further comments on the rate increases through July 5. The comments can be emailed to uccinfo@oucc.in.gov or submitted through the OUCC’s online contact form.

A final order on the case is not expected until early next year.

Violet is our daily news reporter. Contact her at vcomberwilen@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @ComberWilen.