What if the N.C. Utilities Commission had a public hearing and no one came?
That’s a fair question after about 30 people showed up for the Jan. 15 hearing on Duke Energy’s proposed rate increase at the Macon County Courthouse.
Of those 30, several were there representing Duke or the media. The process that resulted in such a tiny turnout deserves some scrutiny.
The utilities commission posts the schedule of public hearings at its website, ncuc.net. For Duke’s part, the company met its legal obligation to notify customers of the rate hike request by including a notice in bills sent out in January and running a legal advertisement in the local newspaper of record, in this case the Franklin Press.
That’s it. So if you ripped open your Duke bill without paying attention to the notice, or if you failed to scan the legal ads in the paper, or if you don’t regularly check the commission website, you might not have been aware of the hearing.
The Franklin Press published an article about the hearing on page 3A of its Jan. 8 issue. An Asheville TV station’s website had an article about the meeting on the day of the meeting. A regional newspaper reported on the scheduled meeting two days before the hearing.
That’s hardly sufficient notice of a hearing on a proposal that would have a financial impact on hundreds of thousands of Western North Carolina residents.
And the few who came to the hearing had a tough time finding it. There was no sign outside the mostly dark courthouse, and the only unlocked entrance was at the rear of the building. A hand-written sign inside the entrance read “meeting fourth floor” with an arrow pointing to the elevator.
It’s hard to imagine a process that could have drawn fewer people to the hearing, which was one of four held in the coverage area – and the only one in the far-western part of the state.
The impact of Duke’s request – justified or not – is simply too important to rely on such a muddied process.
Luckily, you can still make your voice heard by going to ncuc.net/contactus.html. There you’ll find information on the request and a link to email your opinion. Be sure to include the docket number, E-7 Sub 1214CS in the subject line.