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NC regulators cut Duke Energy rate hike for eastern NC and Asheville

Duke Energy's Asheville gas plant opened in 2020 on the site of a former coal-fired plant. The utility wants to build more like it, even as it tries to cut carbon emissions.
David Boraks
/
WFAE
Duke Energy's Asheville gas plant.

State regulators have approved a lower-than-requested rate increase for Duke Energy Progress customers in eastern North Carolina and the Asheville area.

The state's largest utility had asked for an increase across all customer groups totaling 16% over three years. But on Friday, the North Carolina Utilities Commission approved 11.3%. The order gave no details on the new lower increases. But in a securities filing over the weekend, Duke said rates would rise 3.3% beginning Oct. 1, 2.4% next year and 5.6% in 2025.

The company says it's still calculating the exact impacts on residential and other customer groups.

The order set Duke's rate of return, essentially its profit margin, at 9.8%. That's up from 9.6% the last time Duke got a rate increase.

Duke says it needs the extra revenues to pay for strengthening the electric grid, improving reliability and adding more renewable energy.

"We believe this is a constructive outcome that enables Duke Energy to maintain strong progress toward building a cleaner, more reliable energy future for our North Carolina customers," Duke Energysaid in a statementFriday.

“We are currently evaluating the NCUC order on Duke Energy Progress’ rate request and will determine the exact impacts on customer rates in the coming weeks," Duke said.

The 262-page order also approves additional revenue (or penalties) based on reliability and other performance measures — something new allowed in North Carolina's 2021 energy reform law. It gives Duke the go-ahead for various projects and programs, including $16 million in financial aid over three years across North Carolina to reduce the bills of low-income customers. That came from a settlement with the Sierra Club.

The commission was not unanimous in its rate order for Duke Energy Progress. Both Commission Chair Charlotte Mitchell and member Dan Clodfelter wrote dissents covering parts of the order.

Mitchell's main concern was that the 9.8% return on equity was too low, in part because of high interest rates. She said she would have allowed a 10% return.

Clodfelter said he agreed with most of the order but disagreed with two points: The commission's approval of Duke's plan for encouraging increased adoption of electric vehicles and the way performance incentives were structured.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.
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