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NC Regulators Reject Duke Energy Rate Hike, Allow Coal Ash Costs

Duke Energy headquarters in Charlotte.
David Boraks
Duke Energy headquarters in Charlotte.

State regulators have rejected Duke Energy's request for a rate increase and instead ordered slight rate reductions in its western North Carolina territory, including Charlotte. The order doesn't say exactly what Duke's new rates will be, and it's still possible some customers could see slight rate increases.

Duke Energy headquarters in Charlotte.
David Boraks
Duke Energy headquarters in Charlotte.

In the order Friday, the North Carolina Utilities Commission said Duke should cut rates to make up for the effects of state and federal tax cuts.

Meanwhile, regulators also rejected Duke's request for new fees to pay for improvements to the electricity grid.

Duke had asked for an increase of about 10 percent.

But it wasn't all bad news for Duke. Regulators are allowing the company to recover most of the $546 million it spent on coal ash cleanup costs over the past five years - minus a $70 million penalty. Duke also can recover development costs for the Lee Nuclear Plant in South Carolina, which it canceled last year, and the commission allowed a slight increase in the basic charge for residential customers, from the current $11.80 to $14. But that's expected to be offset by lower charges for fuel.

Regulators did accept a partial settlement with the state’s utility consumer advocates, the Public Staff, in February. In that agreement, Duke said it would accept a slightly lower rate of return of 9.9 percent, compared with 10.2 percent approved by regulators in 2013.

The company said in a statement Friday afternoon that it disagrees with some of the commission’s findings:"While we are currently evaluating the North Carolina Utilities Commission’s order, we disagree with some of the findings in the order. The company will evaluate next steps, keeping in mind that it is critical to balance the needs of our customers with smart investments that keep costs as low as possible and keep North Carolina competitive for the long term."

Duke must now recalculate rates based on the ruling and file new rate schedules within 30 days.

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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