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The state's largest electricity provider wants to modernize its infrastructure, but it's a plan that comes with a price for customers.

The Indiana Regulatory Commission is taking comments on Duke Energy's $1.87 billion infrastructure improvement case, which includes the mandatory installation of smart meters for every customer in their service territory.

Tyson Slocom, director of Public Citizen's Energy Program, says the costs of the devices outweigh any consumer benefits.

"This is kind of like forcing everyone to buy an iPhone even if all you're going to do is make local phone calls with it," says Slocom. "It's very expensive equipment that's not going to be used efficiently by all households."

Those in favor of smart meters say they can help consumers monitor their usage and streamline services, but Slocum says it's a premature installment of costly advanced technology. He adds, it should be offered to customers as a voluntary option. Duke Energy estimates the plan will increase rates an average of one percent every year from 2016 to 2022.

If the request is approved, Duke Energy would have a tracker that allows it to raise rates when costs go up. Kerwin Olson, executive director with Citizens Action Coalition, says about 30 percent of Duke's bills are already comprised of trackers, and customers can't afford any more rate increases.

"Ratepayers are struggling to get by on a day-to-day basis," he says. "Duke as a company is pretty healthy and financially strong and a lot of these projects Duke Energy needs to do to provide reliable electricity service and the customer shouldn't have to bear all the risks and all of the costs that come along with this."

Olson adds, the average monthly electric bill of Duke Energy customers has increased by almost 10 percent in the last year, and nearly 56 percent in the last 10 years. State utility regulators are taking public comments on the case before and during a hearing this Wednesday in Bloomington.
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