Duke Energy, watchdog dealing on rate increase

RALEIGH, N.C. — There was a small win Monday for customers in Duke Energy’s first push to raise customer rates.

Duke Progress agreed to ask for a slightly lower rate increase on more than 1 million Duke Progress customers.

It still wants consumers across the state to pay for coal ash cleanup.

Last summer, the company presented two separate rate cases to the N.C. Utilities Commission. One would affect Duke Progress customers in central and eastern North Carolina and in the Asheville region.

The other case would impact Duke Carolinas customers in central and western North Carolina, including the Triad and Charlotte.

Duke Energy Carolinas customers in the Charlotte area could pay 13.6 percent more.

“That’s an issue for us. We didn’t create this mess,” Amy Brown, who lives near coal ash ponds in Belmont, said.

The expert witness hearing in the Duke Progress case was supposed to start Monday, but it was postponed.

An internal document said public staff hired to represent taxpayers were discussing a partial settlement with Duke Progress.

Some called the talks “backroom deals” and questioned if the public would be properly represented.

“This continues a longstanding and outrageous pattern: The regulators cut a private deal with Duke Energy that undermines other parties’ cases and shields Duke from full and open scrutiny,” said Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN.

“If they're meeting in a back room and that information is not available to the public, what comes out of that might not be based on good, factual information," Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper, said.

A spokesman for Duke Energy said the settlement reached Monday isn’t binding.

“Regulators are not bound by settlements and they are free to accept or reject them as they deem appropriate.  Parties opposing settlements are free to submit testimony or comments advocating rejection of the settlement to the regulator,” spokesman Jeff Brooks. “This is not a Duke Energy issue or even a North Carolina issue. Utilities across the nation are addressing how to manage coal ash in their operations and how to comply with regulations that direct that work. Some utilities already have coal ash costs included in their rates and others have current requests to do so.”

In the settlement, Duke Energy Progress agreed to a 13 percent rate increase rather than a 14.9 percent for Duke Progress customers. It also agreed to a lower potential profit margin. The issue of whether to charge customers for coal ash cleanup has not been resolved.

“I do believe whatever decision is made for Progress, it will be the decision made for Carolina,” Brown said.

The expert witness hearing for the Progress case has been postponed to next Nov. 27.

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