Last week the students of the Greenpeace Semester listened to residents of Raleigh, NC as they testified to their Public Utilities Commission about the rate increases that Duke Energy – the electricity company in North Carolina as well as 5 other states – is trying to make them pay on their monthly electric bills. One woman said that she pays as much as $500 every month to make sure that her family’s lights stay on. That means that if Duke Energy gets the increases it wants, her bill will go up by over $50, which she simply can’t afford.
Duke wants to raise those prices just so it can build more dirty coal-burning power plants and unsafe nuclear reactors. Since Duke is the largest electric utility in the US, its plans to burn more coal matters for all of us – coal is the leading cause of global warming in this country. North Carolina residents know that, and want to see Duke make the switch to clean energy. Another man took the stand to point out that Duke’s long term plan has a grand total of 3.5% renewable energy over the next 20 years while there are whole countries that will be going 100% renewable in the same time period.
Those were just two stories among many that were heard from the community that night.
The Greenpeace Semester spent three days before the hearing knocking on doors, talking to hundreds of Raleigh residents about these rate hikes and inviting them to come out and testify against the proposed increases. Since Duke has a monopoly over selling electricity in both North Carolina and South Carolina, the residents of both states have no choice but to pay increasingly high rates for Duke’s dirty energy. Hearings like this are one of the few chances they have to voice their opinions on whether Duke uses clean or polluting forms of energy.
That is why the Semester chose to spend our spring 2013 campaign trip raising awareness about Duke’s dirty, expensive energy, and encouraging people to take a stand for cleaner, cheaper energy instead. It worked: in just 3 days over 350 people signed a petition against Duke’s rate hikes and several of those people came to the hearing. One memorable conversation was with a man who quickly agreed to sign the petition, telling us as he signed: “I’m so glad you’re out here, people should be outraged about this.”
The trip supported local efforts to fight Duke’s dirty energy and gave the Semester participants a glimpse at organizing: hard work with real rewards in the form of good conversations, awareness raised, petitions signed and delivered, and real people standing up for a cleaner, more affordable future.