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Student group protests in the name of clean energy

March 14, 2013

Published here on March 14, 2013

Members from the N.C. State Fossil Free group attended a North Carolina Utilities Commission hearing to voice their opposition to proposed rate hikes by Progress Energy, which has 1.3 million customers in North Carolina, including N.C. State.

In an effort to make their voices known to the commission, a handful of the group’s members stood in front of government officials, energy representatives, media and various activist groups to state their case.

Jaclyn Mills, a sophomore in plant and soil science, said she attended the meeting because it was her job as a citizen to voice concern.

“As a government agency, it should be the N.C. Utilities Commission’s job to represent the people,” Mills said. “It’s their job to step in and say this rate increase is not acceptable. We’re coming to be the voice of the constituents.”

According to The News & Observer, Progress Energy — which recently merged with Charlotte-based Duke Energy — is seeking to collect $183 million extra a year from its customers, largely to cover the cost of three new natural gas power plants and an upgrade at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant in Wake County,  among other operating expenses. If passed, this will be the energy company’s first base rate increase in 25 years.

Mills said that she, along with other members of the Fossil Free group, opposes the rate increases for two reasons.

Her first reason is that not enough of the revenue would go toward energy from sustainable sources. Duke Energy still owns 12 coal plants, and much of the increased revenue would go towards natural gas plants — which are also fossil fuel-based. In December, the energy company released a plan in showing energy from renewable resources was expected to increase by only 3 percent.

Her second reason for opposing the rates is that the increase is regressive. The energy company is proposing to raise rates by about 11 percent for household and business customers, but only to raise rates by about 5 percent for industrial customers.

“A lot of people here are representing the elderly,” Mills said. “For people, on a fixed income, a rate hike could be detrimental. No one should have to choose between electricity and food.”

According to Amy Thai, a freshman planning on double-majoring in international affairs and business administration, speaking to an energy panel was “amazing.”

“I feel honored to even have the opportunity to speak and practice democracy beyond just voting,” Thai said.

Other organizations represented at the hearing were AARP, Greenpeace, the N.C. Housing Coalition and Progress Energy itself.

There were speakers who supported both sides of the rate increase, with those in favor of it often citing Progress Energy’s stellar reputation and customer service.

Still, Mills said that she is there because she doesn’t like Progress Energy using her money to fund things that are unsustainable.

“As a rate-payer, I should feel good about where my money is going,” Mills said in her speech to the commission. “I’m happy to help make investments for things I believe in, but this is not one of them.”

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