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Groups Oppose Duke Settlement On Grid Improvements

A Duke Energy substation.
Duke Energy
A Duke Energy substation.

The state's utility consumer advocate and other groups are opposing Duke Energy's agreement earlier this month to limit a planned $7.8 billion electric grid modernization program.  The North Carolina Utilities Commission Public Staff, the environmental group NC WARN, and the Carolina Utility Customers Association say the program would result in unacceptably higher rates.

The groups want regulators to consider the program separately from Duke's current request for a 10 percent rate hike in its western North Carolina territory.  

"Duke is likely seeking to bend the commission toward approving grid money even if it doesn’t approve the actual settlement," NC WARN said in a statement. "While there might be some benefit to customers in the deal, that case needs to be made openly."

In a regulatory filing Friday, the North Carolina Utilities Commission Public Staff said the agreement "does not adequately define the projects or costs that would be included in the rider" — the extra charge Duke wants to add to customers' bills.

Duke announced the deal with the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and several large retailers June 1. 

The utility had proposed collecting higher rates for the modernization program over 10 years, but agreed to limit that to three years. Duke would have to get regulators' approval to continue it beyond that.  

Duke also agreed as part of the settlement to spend $25 million on vehicle charging stations by 2021; to improve efficiency, security and reliability; and to install more battery storage in rural areas.

A decision on Duke's rate hike request is expected later this month.

Copyright 2018 WFAE

David Boraks is a WFAE weekend host and a producer for "Charlotte Talks." He's a veteran Charlotte-area journalist who has worked part-time at WFAE since 2007 and for other outlets including DavidsonNews.net and The Charlotte Observer.
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