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Protesters gather outside Duke Energy meeting

A group of environmentalists and other activists gathered Thursday morning outside the Duke Energy building in Charlotte’s uptown, protesting against the company’s policies while shareholders gathered inside for their annual meeting.

No arrests or other problems were reported by late morning, as protesters carried signs and handed out informational leaflets under the watchful eyes of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.

“I have no choice,” protester Margaret Peeples of Raleigh said, when asked why she was there. “I want the next generation to breathe clean air and enjoy clean water.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police scoured the area near the Duke Energy building with bomb-sniffing dogs Thursday morning, in advance of the protesters’ arrival.

The first group of protesters arrived about 8:30 a.m. and began unpacking items from a vehicle. By 9 a.m., they were assembling a 9-foot-tall panel, containing photos that participants say are of Duke customers.

Protesters say they are upset with the utility’s rate hikes and what they say is Duke’s unwillingness to invest in clean energy sources.

“My daughter is having a grandchild in a few weeks,” Peeples said. “I hope that child will have some clean air to breathe.”

Satana Deberry, of the North Carolina Housing Coalition, said her group wants Duke to look at ways of helping lower-income residents.

“If Duke’s requested rate hike goes through, customers will be paying 30 percent more than a few years ago,” Deberry said. “That can be devastating.”

She said her coalition wants Duke to look at rate structures that are easier on lower-income people, and to invest more in efforts to weatherize housing. “A lot of affordable housing is not energy-efficient,” she said.

This is the final shareholders meeting for Duke CEO Jim Rogers, who is retiring.

Protesters say Rogers and his company have not done enough to limit rate increases and invest in clean-energy sources. Duke Energy officials counter that the company has invested large amounts of money into efforts to keep the environment clean.

Police began arriving at the Duke Energy building about 7:30 a.m., with both foot patrol and motorcycle officers visible. The bomb-sniffing dogs arrived a short time later.

Charlotte city officials last year declared an “Extraordinary Event” at the shareholders meeting – a declaration that limited the types of items that protesters could bring with them near the Duke Energy building. But no declaration has been issued this year.

On its Facebook page, the group of protesters said it would hold a Ratepayer Stakeholders Meeting outside the Duke building. It called the protest “a community teach-in on the streets, to expose the real truth behind Duke Energy.”

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