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Hearing will consider Duke Energy rate hike in eastern NC, Asheville

Duke Energy headquarters in uptown Charlotte.
David Boraks
Charlotte-based Duke Energy is requesting rate increases for both its North Carolina divisions. Hearings begin this week for Duke Energy Progress, which serves eastern North Carolina and the Asheville area.

State utility regulators will begin hearing expert testimony this week to help them decide how much Duke Energy should be allowed to raise electricity rates in eastern North Carolina and the Asheville area.

The companyannounced a partial settlement Wednesday with the North Carolina Utilities Commission Public Staff, the state's public utility consumer advocate. It would reduce the original request to raise rates by 16% over the next three years at the company's Duke Energy Progress division.

That deal will let Duke charge customers for past capital investments and the cost of coal plant retirements. But other issues remain unresolved.

“We are pleased that we were able to find common ground with the Public Staff on several key issues and develop a settlement agreement that prioritizes the needs of our customers, advances grid reliability and resiliency across the state, and maintains the financial health of the company,” Duke Energy North Carolina President Kendal Bowman said in a statement.

Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks said the company has not recalculated the size of the rate hike because of those unsettled issues, which include how much profit the company should be allowed to earn on its investments and how to recover COVID-19-related costs.

"You need all of those parts together to ultimately determine the impact to customer bills," Brooks said. "I can say that the partial settlement helps to resolve a number of accounting matters and addresses capital projects in our 3-year rate plan proposal."

Duke says higher rates would pay to strengthen the electric grid, improve reliability and prepare for more renewable energy.

The expert witness hearing was supposed to begin Monday but has been postponed to Thursday, according to a notice from the commission.

Duke Energy Carolinas, which covers central and western North Carolina from Durham to Charlotte to the mountains, has asimilar rate increase request pending before the commission. It wants to raise rates a total of 15.7% over three years.

The rate hikes are in addition to increases related to higher fuel costs.

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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.