Monday, June 6, 2016

From Tryon Street to Baltic Avenue

Posted By on Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 1:27 PM

click to enlarge A "captive rate payer" hands money over to Duke Energy at Monday's "Dukeopoly" game. - RYAN PITKIN
  • Ryan Pitkin
  • A "captive rate payer" hands money over to Duke Energy at Monday's "Dukeopoly" game.

A group of environmentalists gathered outside of Duke Energy's headquarters in Uptown this morning to play a life-size version of Monopoly they called "Dukeopoly." They did this to demonstrate the company’s stranglehold on North Carolina government and its consistent attempts to evade coal ash clean-up. 

The game consisted of players — or "captive rate payers" — rolling the dice and speaking about different aspects of Duke's political and corporate influence in North Carolina as they landed on squares that replaced the classics like Park Place or Boardwalk with "Riverbend Coal Plant" and "North Carolina Legislature" (already owned by Duke Energy, according to the square). 

click to enlarge The end of "Dukeopoly" was no end at all. - RYAN PITKIN
  • Ryan Pitkin
  • The end of "Dukeopoly" was no end at all.
As the captive rate payers would land on a square, they would speak about topics like coal ash, rising energy rates and the company's extreme political spending. They would then hand over large stacks of money to one of the game's controllers, representing Duke Energy. He, in turn, would hand over a portion of that money to the game's other controller, representing the North Carolina legislature. 

Once the game's players realized that the game's finish line pointed them back to the beginning, meaning the game would never end, they took both controllers to jail. All of this was done symbolically, of course, so just do air quotes while saying every other word in the previous sentence.

The bit of street theater was meant "to exhibit the need to get people in and money out of our political system," said Hanna Mitchell, who works with Greenpeace and helped organize this morning's action.

"Duke is not only the largest investor-owned utility in the country, but also the top power broker in the southeast in terms of lobbying clout, direct connections to government and political campaign contributions," Mitchell said. "As North Carolinians, constituents, voters and customers across North Carolina gear up for the next election, we are looking for elected leaders who will listen to the voice of the people over money."

For Mario Delgado, who participated as one of the captive rate payers, the action was about a new law passed by the state legislature that, if signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, will extend the time given to Duke Energy to clean up the many coal ash ponds they've created throughout the state and give the company a chance to lobby for more leniency in how it's being forced to clean the ponds. 

"This is directed toward the fact that the coal ash agreement is being overlooked in North Carolina congress, where Duke Energy is having a big say on when the clean-up is going to be and how it is going to be done," Delgado said. "We want to remind people that this is happening right in their backyards and that this is an ongoing event, it's not something to put in the past." 
click to enlarge Organizers said Monday's political street theater was to exhibit the need to take money out of politics. - RYAN PITKIN
  • Ryan Pitkin
  • Organizers said Monday's political street theater was to exhibit the need to take money out of politics.

Tom Williams, a spokesperson with Duke Energy who was watching as the game unfolded, shrugged off the activists as something the company has to deal with "from time to time," implying that they aren't serious about opening up a dialogue with the company. 

"Clearly it's a sign of a very creative group, doing creative things," Williams said. "In the past, we've tried to engage with them to discuss the issues in a serious manner and we haven't found their interest in that, or found those meetings to be very productive. We certainly welcome additional dialogue when they're ready to have additional dialogue. This is largely entertainment and we view that as such." 

When asked about any past engagement with Duke, Mitchell said she was unaware of what meetings Williams was referring to. 

"We haven't received any communications from him but if he would like to speak with us, we'd love to hear from him," she said. 

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