Duke Energy power rate hike faces legal opposition

NEW YORK – North Carolinians could see their electricity bills increase next year, but groups are fighting the hike in court.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper and N.C. WARN, a clean energy advocacy group, are separately challenging a decision made by the N.C. Utilities Commission that would allow for Duke Energy Progress to increase its household electricity rate by 7.2 percent.

The N.C. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments from N.C. Warn today.

Cooper announced on Oct. 24 that he too plans to appeal the commission’s decision to approve the rate hike.

Duke EnergyAccording to Duke Energy, the rate hikes pay for more efficient, up-to-date energy plants in the state. The company recently requested an additional rate increase that could raise rates by 4.5 percent for the first two years and 5.1 percent after that — which Cooper is also challenging.

The N.C. Supreme Court first ruled on the 7.2 percent rate hike in April, ordering the Utilities Commission to consider the impact on consumers. The Utilities Commission had allowed the hike to give Duke a 10.5 percent profit, Cooper said.

“A thorough examination of the impact on consumers like the Supreme Court directed should result in lower rates,” Cooper said in a statement.

Duke Energy and Progress Energy merged in 2012 to become the country’s largest regulated utility.

N.C. WARN said in a press release that it has brought the merger before the N.C. Court of Appeals because it believes Duke violated antitrust laws. The group contends that the utilities commission fails to protect customers.

Jim Warren, executive director of N.C. WARN, said the rate hikes clearly demonstrate problems with the monopoly that Duke now holds.

“We’re calling on the court to hold regulators accountable,” Warren said. “It’s time they stop manipulating rates and padding their profits.”

Adam Kridler, a UNC student residing off campus, said he agreed with the decisions to further challenge the rate hikes.

“Natural monopolies already enjoy an unfair competitive advantage,” Kridler said. “It just seems hard to justify this in a still-recovering economy.”

Warren said one of N.C. WARN’s goals is to get the courts to take a look at the negative effect of the merger and subsequent monopoly on consumers.

The press release from the attorney general’s office also said the Utilities Commission’s decision did not protect consumers, though the press release did not address the antitrust law.

Andrew Chin, a professor at the UNC School of Law, said Cooper’s appeal directly addresses not antitrust laws, but consumer protection.

“The law in question doesn’t use the word antitrust at all,” Chin said. “This has more to do directly with the rate hikes, from Cooper’s end.”

Travis Murphy, a UNC junior who lives in Chapel Ridge, said the apartment complex used to pay for his electricity but stopped. He said he’s not looking forward to an increase on his bill.

“We already pay enough for rent, so we shouldn’t have to pay for the electricity bill,” he said.

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