Progress Energy officials plan to file a request for a rate increase early next month, the first such request the company has made in a quarter century.
In a letter to the state’s Utilities Commission, Progress officials said they expect to file their request on or about Oct. 5. Details of the size of the request increase won’t be known until the filing is made.
Progress officials have been talking about a potential rate increase for several years, even before the company’s plan to merge with Duke Energy was announced in early 2011.
The request is likely to be a contentious, drawn-out regulatory battle. It will require voluminous filings and lengthy hearings and, potentially, a compromise settlement between the company and state consumer advocates that would reduce the amount of the request.
“We know there’s never a good time to seek a rate increase and have delayed the request as long as possible,” Progress spokesman Mike Hughes said in a statement. “We are committed to minimizing the impact of increased costs through energy-efficiency programs tailored to our customers’ needs and assistance for low-income consumers.”
The request also comes at a time when state regulators are investigating Duke Energy over its sudden firing of previous CEO Bill Johnson just hours after the merger between Duke and Progress was completed. The Utilities Commission approved the merger in late June on the expectation that Johnson, at the time the CEO of Raleigh-based Progress, would be CEO of the combined company.
The rate increase request is being made by Progress because the Progress and Duke subsidiaries will operate independently, with their own rates, for years to come. Duke is expected also to request a rate increase this year for its utility operations in North Carolina. The rate increases are being requested largely to pay for multibillion-dollar power plant construction projects.
Progress has 1.3 million customers in North Carolina. Duke, based in Charlotte, has about 1.8 million customers in North Carolina, including about 170,000 in Durham, Chapel Hill and other parts of the western Triangle.
Progress’ rate increase would be the company’s first in the base rate since 1988, when Progress raised residential rates by 9.1 percent to pay for the $3.9 billion Shearon Harris nuclear plant in southwest Wake County. Progress had requested an increase of 13.9 percent, which was fought by the Public Staff consumer advocate agency and reduced by the N.C. Utilities Commission, which has the final say over rate matters.
The general rate covers general operating expenses, such as labor and materials, and is the segment of the rate on which the company generates its corporate profit.