State regulators considering Duke Energy rate hikes

Duke Energy Carolinas has asked the North Carolina Utilities Commission to consider allowing the company to increase its rates by 16.7 percent for residential customers, among other increases.

Public hearings are being held this week as the North Carolina Utilities Commission considers allowing Duke Energy to increase its customers’ rates by as much as 16.7 percent.

The NCUC held a hearing Monday in Raleigh and is holding another one at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Buncombe County Courthouse in Asheville. The commission must approve the rate changes before they take effect.

In a statement released earlier this month, David Fountain, president of Duke Energy’s North Carolina operations, said the change is about offering customers cleaner energy.

“Through smart investments in cleaner energy plants and renewable resources, safely managing coal ash, and the grid that powers our lives and improves reliability, we are focused every day on providing customers increasing value and laying the foundation for a smarter energy future,” Fountain said. “As our state grows, and as we think about the future energy infrastructure required to serve our customers, a smarter grid will facilitate cleaner energy sources and provide customers the tools they need to make more-informed energy decisions. We are committed to smart investments that balance the energy needs of our customers with competitive rates.”

Duke Energy has 23,500 customers in Lee County. If the changes take effect, the company will see revenues increase by about $647 million. Residential customers will see a 16.7 percent jump, commercial entities’ rate will go up by 11.4 percent, and industrial customers’ rates will increase by 9.9 percent. The commission is expected to decide by spring.

In a fact sheet Duke Energy produced, the company argued that the increases are needed to “modernize power plants, generate cleaner power, responsibly manage coal ash and improve reliability.”

Some are frustrated with the coal ash part of the explanation. A rally is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Vance Monument at the Buncombe County Courthouse, hosted by several environmental organizations, to “tell the N.C. Utilities Commission to make Duke pay for their own mistakes” with coal ash, according to a Facebook Event for the rally.

On that same fact sheet, Duke Energy said it would not ask customers to pay for the 2014 coal ash spill at the Dan River Steam Station, but that appropriately managing coal ash is “a responsibility we all share as consumers of electricity.”

On the subject of coal ash, Lee County is still slated to receive coal ash from Duke Energy, but the timing is uncertain.

“They’re going to hold on to the property,” County Manager John Crumpton said on Monday. “They’re still working with DEQ on what they have to do with their existing coal ash. Nothing imminent as far as it coming here.”

The Lee County Board of Commissioners voted in 2015 to approve an agreement with Duke Energy to receive at least $4 million to allow the company to store coal ash in Sanford’s Colon Mine site.

Reach Staff Writer Zachary Horner at 919-718-1217 and on Twitter at @Zachary_Horner.