10/10/17 — Duke Energy to host public hearing in Snow Hill about rate increase

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Duke Energy to host public hearing in Snow Hill about rate increase

By Rochelle Moore
Published in News on October 10, 2017 5:50 AM

The N.C. Utilities Commission will hear from consumers Wednesday in Snow Hill about a proposed 14.9 percent rate increase sought by Duke Energy Progress.

The public hearing is one of several held across the state as the utility provider seeks approval from the Utilities Commission to raise residential rates by 16.7 percent. The requested increases also include a 15.4 percent for small general service customers, 12.9 percent for medium general service and 13.4 percent for large general service customers.

The N.C. Utilities Commission has set an evidentiary hearing to review proposed rate increases on Nov. 20.

The public hearing will be held Wednesday, at 7 p.m., at the Greene County Courthouse, 301 N. Greene St., in Snow Hill. A Thursday public hearing is also set for Thursday night at the New Hanover County Courthouse, 316 Princess St., in Wilmington.

Earlier public hearings, in Asheville and Raleigh, have been met with vocal opposition, partly for the company's woes following the 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River, which triggered costly cleanup expenses, fines and legislation. Duke officials have said the Dan River spill is not being paid for by its customer base.

"We take responsibility for our actions in those matters and those costs will be borne by Duke Energy shareholders," said Jeff Brooks, Duke Energy spokesman.

The retail electric rate increase is planned to cover the costs of closing coal-ash basins, modernization efforts at power plants and to support emergency response during major storms, including Hurricane Matthew.

More than 50 percent of the rate request is related to investments in cleaner energy, including solar and natural gas. Duke officials say the increase remains below the national average.

"We understand that asking any customer to pay more for electricity is difficult," said David Fountain, Duke Energy's North Carolina president. "Our customers tell us they want electricity that is more reliable and increasingly clean, and they also want more value and choice every day.

"It is critical that we, as their energy provider, balance these needs with smart investments that keep costs reasonable and keep North Carolina competitive."

The rate increase is planned to increase revenues by about $477 million, with $66 million of the increase intended to recover coal-ash basin closure compliance costs incurred since January 2015, according to the filing.

If approved, a residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity would pay about $122 per month. The increase would cost an estimated $17.80 more per month for the average residential customer.

The company last sought an 11 percent increase in 2012 and was approved to increase rates by 5.5 percent.

Duke Energy Progress has retired more than half of its older coal plants and replaced them with cleaner, natural gas plants.

The company estimates it will cost $5.1 billion to close ash basins across the Carolinas, including 31 in North Carolina. The cleanup includes 6 million tons of coal ash at the H.F. Lee plant in Wayne County. The plant, which closed in 2012, has four basins of coal ash that will be excavated. An onsite reprocessing unit will be used to remove carbon from the ash that will be used in concrete products.

Headquartered in Charlotte, Duke Energy is one of the largest energy holding companies in the United States, serving nearly 7.5 million customers in six states in the Southeast and Midwest. Duke Energy Progress serves 1.3 million electric customers in central and eastern North Carolina and in the Asheville region.

The N.C. Utilities Commission is accepting written comments about the proposed rate increase, which can be emailed to statements@ncuc.net or mailed to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, 4325 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C., 27699. Comments should be sent to the commission prior to the Nov. 20 N.C. Utilities Commission hearing.