Duke rate hike to continue during review

bhenderson@charlotteobserver.comMay 20, 2013 

Duke Energy Carolinas’ 2012 rate hike will stay in effect as the N.C. Utilities Commission reviews it under order of the state Supreme Court.

In a rare move, the high court reversed the rate increase in April and sent it back to the commission. The court upheld Attorney General Roy Cooper’s claim that in allowing a 10.5 percent return on common equity, or profit margin, the commission didn’t independently assess the hike’s impact on customers.

On Monday, the commission refused Cooper’s request to put the 7.2 percent rate increase on hold during the review. Duke Carolinas has 1.9 million customers, including about 180,000 in Orange and Durham counties. The hike cost typical residential customers an extra $7 a month, beginning in February 2012.

The Supreme Court, its order said, “did not conclude that rates established by the commission were not just and reasonable or that the (return on equity) determined by the commission was not supported by the evidence.”

Duke’s lawyers had argued against the stay, saying it would be unfair in light of the company’s concessions in settling the rate case. Those included an $11 million contribution to help low-income customers and a delay in charging customers for $51 million in power-plant construction costs.

Duke and Cooper have also wrangled over the commission’s review of the rate hike.

The attorney general argues that the commission should hear new evidence, as it did during a similar case in 1998. Duke says no further testimony is needed.

The commission set a June 7 deadline for parties to the case to recommend how to proceed.

Duke Energy Carolinas, meanwhile, has a new rate hike before the commission. The commission will begin hearing expert testimony July 8. Duke is asking for a 9.7 percent overall rate increase, but most residential power bills would go up about 14 percent.

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender

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