NC Supreme Court upholds Duke Energy rate increase

The N.C. Supreme Court on Friday rejected a legal attempt by the state attorney general to invalidate a Duke Energy rate increase, ending the AG’s two-year campaign to use the courts to lower Duke’s power bills in the state.

The court’s decision to let the Duke rate increase stand is the third such ruling from the high court in the past year. Friday’s ruling locks in place a 5.1 percent increase by Duke Energy Carolinas; in two previous two rulings, the Supreme Court upheld rates increases for Duke Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress.

In each case AG Roy Cooper, an expected Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2016, argued that in approving utility rate increases, the N.C. Utilities Commission ignored the economic impact on Duke’s customers.

Duke, in a brief statement, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. “Our rates continue to remain well below the national average and competitive in the region,” the statement said.

The AG said his effort was not wasted, but set a higher standard for utility rate reviews by the Utilities Commission.

The AG’s first appeal of a Duke Carolinas rate increase in 2013 prevailed at the Supreme Court. The court sent the Duke rate case back to the Utilities Commission with instructions to weigh the rate increase’s effect against the economic plight of Duke’s customers. The commission affirmed the rate increase, this time beefing up its rationale with new economic analyses.

“The original ruling in the first case was favorable and we believe has laid the groundwork for future cases by requiring that consumers’ interests be weighed when determining utility profits,” said AG spokeswoman Noelle Talley.

Cooper still has several appeals outstanding that have not been decided by the Supreme Court. One of the appeals pertains to a rate increase by Dominion N.C. Power, the Richmond, Va.-based utility. Cooper also plans to appeal a rate increase mechanism approved for Aqua North Carolina, a water utility with about 90,000 water and sewer customers.