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Ask a Journalist: Why is my power bill going up? And... what's a 'rider'?

Duke Energy

A WHQR listener emailed the newsroom to ask about a new charge they saw on their Duke Energy bill. WHQR’s News Director Ben Schachtman interviewed reporter Camille Mojica to see what she found out for our latest ‘Ask a Journalist’ segment

Benjamin Schachtman: Hey Cami, thanks for sitting down with me.

Camille Mojica: Yeah, of course!

Ben: Okay, so a listener recently emailed us about a new charge on his Duke Energy bill — something called a “summary rider adjustment." They weren’t sure where this was coming from, so you did some digging, so tell us, what did you find?

Cami: Alright, so. First thing’s first. Your bill absolutely has an increase on it, and you’re not crazy. I actually checked my bills and I’ve got it too, and honestly, the price difference is substantial — we’ve heard from listeners that they’ve seen increases of between $30 and $60, depending on the person’s house or apartment size. I was able to do some surfing of the web to find that this was proposed by Duke way back last summer in June. Duke Energy Progress, which covers our area, proposed annual adjustment for fuel and other riders to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, which was ultimately approved.

Ben: Okay, okay, so this isn’t something sudden?

Cami: Well, here’s the thing. It was approved a while back, but customers haven’t been noticing a difference until recently. The listener who contacted us actually asked us that, why now? And why weren’t people notified? They did warn us, the press, I mean, and others who watch their website for press releases.

Ben: So, probably not your average customer though.

Cami: Probably not — but Duke did note that if the increase was approved, residential rates would go up 4.3% at the end of 2023 — which makes sense as to why you’re only seeing those charges now.

Ben: OK, so overall rates are going up, but the ‘rider’ itself isn’t technically a new fee on top of your usage rate.

Cami: No. A Duke spokesperson wanted to assure customers that the charges are actually not new charges, and that they’ve existed in people’s bills for a long time. Prior bills showed these costs, which customers have always paid, as part of the base rate on the bill but the new bills list these costs separately from the base rate.

Ben: Okay, I get, rates are going up, but the rider's not to blame — and that rider cost has always been there, just not listed as a cost on its own. Alright, so, for people who are wondering, what is a ‘rider’?

Cami: A “rider” is a charge, not included in base rates, that allows a utility to recover the costs of specific programs, credits and purchases. Once Duke sets a rate for your energy bill, they legally can’t change it, so riders are essentially a loophole to add adjustments to your rate.

Ben: Got it, now we're just seeing it. Any reason they changed how the bill looks?

Cami: Duke actually recently overhauled what their bills look like to “increase transparency.” With the rider costs initially lumped in with your base rate, it may have been confusing why your cost looked one way, and someone else with similar energy usage looked another. But by listing them separately, you can actually see those adjustments and understand why your bill looks the way it does.

Ben: Why are the charges so expensive, though?

Cami: There’s a bunch of things that make up the list of riders. And each individual thing has its own rate — which can be adjusted, by the way — that’s charged to your total billed kilowatt-hour usage per month. These adjustments include approved fuel, power generation, environmental and purchases. So, a few cents here, a few there and a few more there, all add up in the end.

BS: Right — and, of course, people are never going to be stoked about having a high utility bill. But, it certainly helps to understand what goes into it. So, for that, Cami, thanks for your reporting!

Cami: Happy to do it!

Camille hails from Long Island, NY and graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Her story focus revolves her deep care for children, young adults and mental health. You can reach her at cmojica@whqr.org.