When examining North Carolina’s economy in 2020, there are two perspectives that
offer vastly different conclusions. First, Site Selection Magazine just named North
Carolina the top state in the country for its business climate. This award means that North Carolina is the leading state in the nation for locating or expanding a business; expectations follow that the economy should pick back up and benefit all North Carolinians. But, there is a darker side of the economy in 2020. According to UNC
Charlotte’s economist John Connaughton, the North Carolina unemployment rate will remain at 7.1 percent by year’s end; for the year, the state will lose 219,600 net jobs, and 12 of the state’s 14 non-agricultural sectors of the economy will see large employment decreases. And, North Carolina’s poverty rate is likely to increase from the 2019 rate of 14 percent due to the pandemic.
As of December 6th, North Carolina data show 205,736 total requests for assistance
since the beginning of March, including 54,890 for rent/mortgage/other housing
assistance. That represents a 59 percent increase in calls for housing assistance
compared to the same period in 2019. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household
Pulse Survey reports that 30 percent of all households are at risk of eviction or
foreclosure in the next two months.
Residents of North Carolina are also consistently falling behind on paying their electric bills. Here are some data points to ponder.
The situation has been most dire for rural towns. For example, Red Springs, a community of more than 3,000 in southern North Carolina, purchases its power from a consortium that must pay all electricity costs up front even when residents are behind on their bills. In one month, nearly 40 percent of its residents fell behind on their electricity bills.
Overdue balances from North Carolina cities that own their own utility have seen sharp declines in revenue, at a time when they are already struggling to break even.
Duke Energy customers behind on their energy bill only had until October 2020 to pay overdue balances or make payment arrangements, prior to the end of the year when the weather gets colder and heat is needed more than ever.
The number of Duke Energy customers behind on their energy bill as of September 2020 is staggering. Here are the latest numbers posted in the N.C. Utilities Commission Docket M-100 Sub 158:
As of September 30th, more than 500,000 residential customers --18.5 percent of all customers -- were past due on their electric bills, a nine percent increase in just two months;
The total amount owed by residential customers as of Sept. 30 th was a staggering $186 million with an average amount owed per customer of $330.
Why are these numbers so important to highlight? First, the N.C. Utilities Commission
will be coming out shortly with their ruling on Duke Energy’s rate case. Rates will be
increasing at a time when more and more residential customers are struggling to pay
their energy bills. Duke Energy reports that bills will be lower by about $4 in December
but that is a 1.2 percent decrease from the $330 owed by those behind on their bill.
Second, we are about to hit the coldest months of the year, when residents need to
have energy to heat their homes and CARES funding is due to end. And, finally, as of
September 2020, Duke Energy showed only a 3.6 percent decline in revenues year
over year, indicating the pandemic has not affected corporations nearly the same as
individuals in need.
As we approach the holiday season and reflect on what 2020 has meant, we struggle to
offer good cheer to those who cannot pay their energy bills. We might be the best state
in the country for business but we are not the best state in the country for residents who can meet their energy bills.