Five hundred thousand dollars a minute.

That’s not a figure about government spending or global banking transfers. That’s the latest outrageous payout to a corporate CEO. Bill Johnson was CEO of Duke Energy for all of twenty minutes before he picked up a paycheck for $10 million — part of a severance package totaling more than $44 million — and sailed off into the sunset.

What’s even more disgusting: Duke Energy is the largest utility in the country, holding local monopolies in six states, so that its money comes out of the pockets of captive customers paying their electric bills. Over the past several years, Duke has been steadily raising rates for its customers — and increasing payouts to its investors.

Duke has been one of the worst offenders in recent years of utilities run amok. Energy companies that once worked for the public good are now private enterprises run for investor profit, which they fatten up by cutting back on essential services like tree cutting and by hiking rates for customers who don’t have any alternative but to pay up or go dark.

In 2010, Duke was caught red-handed colluding with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to force customers to pay $2 billion for cost overruns at Duke’s latest coal plant venture — once again using its power to shift private losses onto the public, while its executives and investors ensure that they get to pocket any profits.

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