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Residents Urge State Agency to Deny Duke Energy's Proposed 16% Rate Increase

Duke Energy is looking to raise rates for its customers an estimated 16.2 percent.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission hosted a public forum on the proposal on Thursday night at Gateway Community & Technical College's Edgewood campus.

Former Covington city commissioner Bill Wells said that while he is not a Duke customer, he has rental properties that are and that he is a shareholder in Duke. His tenants, he said, are struggling to pay rent and that hikes in energy costs would make that even harder.

Wells criticized the high salaries of top Duke executives at over a million dollars each, as well as the cost of the naming rights of the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati.

"This is not fair, just, or reasonable," he said.

Another former Covington city commissioner, Steve Frank, also spoke against the proposal. He argued that for the City of Covington, it cost $90,000 in 2016 to keep the traffic lights on.

Ft. Mitchell resident Joe Oka argued that the increase is excessive, particularly because Duke has no competition for customers.

"We pay for everything, in one way or another," Oka said.

Ludlow resident Ruth Bamberger also criticized the proposal, arguing that her city's population is about 4,500 with a 21.4 percent poverty rate. Duke, she argued, did not consider whether customers would be able to afford the hike.

The average monthly bill of $82.65 would increase to around $98.27 under the proposal, according to one slide presented on Thursday night.

Ft. Wright resident Jason Worms suggested a variable rate increase rather than a fixed rate, so that his bill would reflect that.

Silver Grove resident Jill Fessler said that nine large industrial companies would only see a rate increase of 7.49 percent while homeowners, hospitals, schools, and churches face more than twice that. 

Ft. Thomas resident Vickie Ellis said that she laughed when she heard the proposed rate increase.

"This is outlandish!" she said. "Please reconsider this really high rate!"

Jannine Bell Smith, of Crescent Springs, came last time Duke asked for a raise, and came back to protest this hike. She told the commission that the raise would mean $187.44 a year more for the average citizen. She also pointed out that the CEO of Duke receives over $21 million a year. She said the stock is trading on the stock market, and it is doing very well.

Smith told the commission that she is a capitalist, and comes from a long line of capitalists.

"When does capitalism cross the line into greed?," she asked. "The consumers feel helpless. Please deny the rate!"

Duke Kentucky is seeking to increase its annual base revenue by approximately $45.6 million, or about 14.7 percent. The higher base rates would, according to Duke Kentucky estimates, increase a typical residential monthly electric bill by $15.62, or about 16.2 percent.

According to Duke Kentucky, reasons for the increase include an inadequate rate of return on investment, which the company says compromises its ability to invest in infrastructure to provide safe and reliable service. Duke Kentucky also is seeking to recover restoration costs incurred following a November 2018 ice storm.

Duke Kentucky’s last electric rate increase took effect in April 2018, with the previous increase in January 2007.

Duke Kentucky is not proposing to adjust its rates for natural gas service.

Duke Kentucky has about 142,500 electric customers in Boone, Campbell, Grant, Kenton, and Pendleton counties.

In addition to the public meeting, the PSC will conduct a formal evidentiary hearing in the case, beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, February 19. The hearing, which is expected to last several days, will be held at the PSC offices at 211 Sower Boulevard in Frankfort. It will be open to the public and may be viewed live on the PSC website, psc.ky.gov.

Written comments will be accepted through the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing. They may be mailed to the PSC at P.O. Box 615, Frankfort, KY 40602, faxed to 502-564-3460, e-mailed from the PSC website or submitted in person at the public meeting or at the PSC offices.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer and Michael A. Monks for The River City News

Photo: Bill Wells addresses the PSC on Thursday night (RCN)