NC Supreme Court upholds Duke Energy rate increase despite AG appeal

The N.C. Supreme Court has ruled that the state Utilities Commission was within bounds when allowing a Duke Energy subsidiary to impose a residential rate increase despite an appeal by the N.C. Attorney General.

The decision, issued Wednesday, included no dissenters.

At issue was whether the commission, the state regulators of power companies, properly assessed the impact to consumers when it approved a 10.2 percent profit margin and 7.5 percent rate increase by Duke Energy Progress, formerly called Progress Energy.

The justices found that the Utilities Commission had weighed enough evidence about the state unemployment rate and national utility trends when it approved the profit margin.

“We are pleased that the court affirmed the N.C. Utilities Commission’s order in this case,” Jeff Brooks, a Duke Energy spokesman, said in a statement. “We believe the court appropriately concluded that the settlement reached in this case, and the commission's consideration of it along with all other evidence, properly balanced customer interests and fulfilled the requirements of N.C. law.”

The profit margin established by the commission “was determined after the commission had analyzed and considered thousands of pages of exhibits and had heard and considered testimony from members of the public, Duke Energy, the N.C. Public Staff and other parties representing various interests,” Brooks added.

The N.C. Supreme Court ruling does not mean customers will see higher bills because of the case. The rate hike already is effect for the 1.3 million North Carolina customers.

Cooper has challenged several rate hike increases in recent years, and several of the cases are pending.

Cooper has contended that the Utilities Commission failed to assess the impact to consumers when it approved a 7.2 percent rate increase in 2012 by Duke Energy Carolinas, which serves Charlotte and Western North Carolina. He challenged the 10.5 percent shareholder profit the commission allowed.

The state Supreme Court agreed in 2013 and sent that case back to the commission. The commission again approved the increase and profit margin. That’s still on appeal.

Cooper, who’s expected to run for governor in 2016 as a Democrat, has also appealed a second Duke Energy Carolinas rate increase, of 4.2 percent.

On Wednesday, after the latest ruling, he issued a statement.

“This disappointing ruling won’t stop us from fighting for utility rates that are fair to consumers as we prepare for arguments next month against the latest rate increase,” Cooper said through his spokeswoman, Noelle Talley. “The Supreme Court has agreed with us before on this issue, and we hope it will again.”