Duke Energy, regulators reach preliminary deal for rate increase

elyportillo@charlotteobserver.comJune 12, 2013 

Duke Energy Carolinas customers would see their bills go up an average of 4.5 percent starting this fall, under a proposed agreement between the company and regulators outlined Wednesday.

That’s less than the 9.7 percent increase Duke had been seeking. The increase will give Duke an additional $235 million in annual revenue, which the company said it will use to recoup the cost of modernizing and replacing old coal-burning power plants.

The North Carolina Public Staff, which advocates for consumers, filed the initial proposed settlement with Duke. The settlement must still be approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

The increase in rates would be higher than the average 4.5 percent for residential consumers, who typically pay higher rates than large-scale industrial customers that buy massive amounts of electricity.

Public Staff executive director Robert Gruber said residential customers’ rates would likely increase between 5.5 and 6 percent. He said the exact rate increase hasn’t been decided.

Duke spokeswoman Lisa Parrish said a second filing by the Public Staff will spell out rate hikes for each class of consumers next week, but declined to give details on Wednesday.

“The details will be filed on Monday,” she said. Parrish said the company hopes to put the rate increases in effect by early fall.

Duke Energy Carolinas has about 1.9 million customers, most of them in Western North Carolina.

Under the proposed settlement, the average electricity charges would go up an average of 4.5 percent for the first two years, then increase 5.1 percent in the third year.

Under the settlement, Duke also would donate $10 million to agencies that help poor people pay their energy bills.

Consumer advocates and environmental groups that oppose Duke were quick to condemn the proposed rate increases.

“This is the third time in four years that Duke has asked for millions in inappropriate charges, then split the difference with regulators – and the rates go up each time,” said Greenpeace, AARP’s North Carolina Chapter and N.C. WARN, in a joint statement.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has challenged Duke Energy Progress’ 7.5 percent rate increase, approved two weeks ago for Progress customers. He said it “puts utility profits ahead of people.”

Cooper has also wrangled with Duke Energy Carolinas over the utility’s 7.2 percent average rate increase in 2012. Cooper challenged the increase and took a case to the N.C. Supreme Court, which ordered the Utilities Commission to review the impact on consumers. The commission in May declined Cooper’s request to roll back the rate increase while the commission reviews the increase.

A spokesman for Cooper could not be reached late Wednesday.

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo

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