Duke Energy agrees to scale back NC rate hike

Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C.,None — Duke Energy agreed with the Public Staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission to slash its requested rate increase to 7.2 percent.

Duke Energy officials said they listened to customers' complaints and the demands from the Public Staff to drastically reduce their requested 17 percent rate increase for residential customers.

Robert Gruber, the Executive Director of the Public Staff, said he was a little surprised that Duke Energy made the agreement before the N.C. Utilities Commission begins hearings Monday, Nov. 28.

Customer Monica Hartley heard about the rate agreement Tuesday night. "I said okay, that's not bad," she said.

Her friend Pat Kelleher said the hike was more reasonable, but she wasn't impressed.

"I would like it lower but that's probably not going to occur," she said.

Duke Energy officials previously said they needed a 17 percent hike to pay for $4.8 billion in new plants and infrastructure improvements.

Despite the lower rate, this agreement does cover that.

Thanks for completing our informal poll. If Duke's rates must increase, what is acceptable? If Duke Energy's rates must increase, what in your mind is acceptable? 1-5 percent. 6-10 percent. 11-15 percent. 16-20 percent.

"We recognize these are very challenging economic times," Duke Energy spokesperson Betsy Conway said, "and working through this agreement, the company determined that there would be some costs that we would exclude from our request."

What that means is with the lower rate increase Duke Energy lowered how much money its shareholders could potentially earn -- the return on equity.

The company also agreed to donate $11 million to agencies that help needy families with their energy bills.

But North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper isn't convinced any rate increase is necessary.

In a statement, he said, "A 7.2 percent rate increase is too much for working families and businesses during these tough economic times. At the hearing, our attorneys will ask tough questions and urge the utilities commission to consider the impact on consumers."

If the hike is approved, it would go into effect in February.

But Duke Energy officials say another request for a rate hike is also likely in 2012 when two more plants open.

"Why say seven percent and then say, ‘Oh, next year?'" Hartley said. "It's right around the corner."

An agreement still has to be approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission. Hearings start on Monday and Duke Energy officials said they do not expect a decision until January or February.

Previous Stories: November 3, 2011: NC AG intervening in case of Duke Energy proposed rate increase October 17, 2011: Duke Energy president discusses controversy surrounding proposed rate hike October 14, 2011: Channel 9's getting answers on Duke Energy's rate increase October 12, 2011: Dozens protest Duke Energy rate hike August 2, 2011: Duke Energy Proposes New Rate Hike