ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WSPA) – Dozens of people gathered Wednesday evening in Asheville to protest a proposed rate hike by Duke Energy.
The rally, organized by a non-profit Community Roots, started at the Vance Monument before protesters and others attended a public hearing by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.
The public hearing is one of a few across the state in response to Duke Energy’s request to raise rates for North Carolina customers about 15 percent.
Duke Energy made the request in June to help pay for ways to create cleaner energy, to respond to damage created by major storms like Hurricane Matthew and other winter storms, and to manage coal ash responsibly.
However, it’s the effects of these coal ash plants that were a main cause for the rally.
“Try to bring to light what’s happening because a lot of citizens aren’t aware of what’s happening right now… what we’re talking about is real life people who had their well water poisoned with hexavalent chromium,” said Community Roots board member, Tyler Garrison.
According to Clean Water for North Carolina, Duke Energy was required in 2014 to test around 10 wells near their plant in Arden. About half of those residents were told not drink their water because it had been affected.
“We’re upset that we’re being charged as citizens, using our dollars and our resources to not only poison our neighbors and pay for cleaning that up, but to guarantee a fossil fuel infrastructure,” Garrison said.
“The polluter should pay,” Richard Fireman, a retired doctor at the rally told 7News.
Duke Energy says a typical 1,000 kilowatt residential bill would increase from $104.68 to $122.48 if the rate increase is approved.
“Raising customer rates is not something Duke Energy takes lightly,” Ryan Mosier, a Duke Energy spokesperson said. “It’s not something that we do on a regular basis.”
He said the increase is “to improve services to customers, to offer more services to customers, to respond to things like severe weather, and to pay for new plants that are being built.”
He said the costs, especially for storm damage clean up, were adding up and it was time to ask the commission for a rate increase.
“That’s not the problem,” Garrison said. “In fact, the energy future that we’ll probably need, rates are at an all-time low, it’s very probable that it’s going to go up regardless.”
Duke Energy said they’re managing the coal ash responsibly, but protesters did not agree and were worried their voices would not be heard.
“The will of the people won’t be carried out by the very people that should be protecting us, so that’s a tragedy,” Garrison said.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission has two more scheduled open public forums to hear community input.
Duke Energy says after all of the public hearings are completed, the commission will make its ruling. If they approve the rate increase, it will start at the beginning of the year. It will most likely be implemented incrementally.