The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released a report, “Tone Deaf: The Facts Behind Duke Energy’s Low-Income Programs,” which claims that the power company consistently harms low-income customers.

Duke Energy is the US’ largest investor-owned electric utility that serves 6.1 million residential customers in its monopoly territories in the Carolinas, Florida, Ohio, and Indiana.

EWG asserts that Duke:

[R]epeatedly tries to raise fixed charges, which hits low-income customers the most; attacks energy efficiency programs in general; underfunds its own low-income efficiency programs; underfunds programs meant to help low-income customers pay their bills; and makes it harder for them to go solar.

EWG writes that Duke’s community solar programs are prohibitive.

South Carolina passed a community solar law in 2015, but Duke didn’t launch the program until 2018.

For low-income customers, Duke will waive the sign-up fee, but those customers will still have to pay the monthly fee. Customers can’t join the program if they’re behind on their bills, or on a deferred payment plan that sets monthly bills at an amount that is adjusted up or down at the end of the year according to usage.

In North Carolina, where community solar became a requirement in 2017, public interest advocates say customers who join the program are subject to excessive fees and inflated costs.

The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association calculated that the cost of the solar power purchase agreements was high and “exceeds the proposed bill credit,” so participants will not see a savings on their bills.

Rory McIlmoil, senior energy analyst for Appalachian Voices, in Duke’s home state of North Carolina, says:

This report clearly shows that a substantial number of Duke’s customers struggle to pay their electric bills, and when this happens, families end up sacrificing other needs, such as food and healthcare.

Rather than spending billions on new gas plants and unnecessary grid upgrades, Duke should instead invest that money in low-income solar and energy efficiency programs that alleviate household energy burdens.

20% of Duke’s customers live in poverty, compared to the national rate of 12%. That does not take into account the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

You can read the entire report here.

Electrek’s Take

Come on, Duke Energy. You can — and must — do better than this. You lead for energy efficiency in the US South. Why are you fleecing your customers?

That’s not OK ever, but particularly now. But as we at Electrek cover green energy, our focus is on making renewables accessible to everyone.

Duke Energy offers community solar in Florida, where I live. But like the Carolinas, it costs extra — a monthly charge of $7.75/Block. The Florida bill example Duke gives shows a shared solar subscription fee of 5 blocks x $7.75 = $38.75, minus a $5.20 shared solar credit.

How on earth is paying a hypothetical extra $33.55 an incentive for anyone, much less lower-income households during times of relative normalcy, much less during a pandemic and economic upheaval? And Florida is the Sunshine State, for heaven’s sake — it just launched the largest solar community program in the US in March. This is unethical, as it forces people to use fossil fuels that are bad for their health — “choice” is rigged.

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