Raleigh, NC -- North Carolina utilities regulators planned to open hearings Monday on whether Duke Energy should be allowed to raise electricity rates by 7.2 percent on all 1.8 million of its customers in the state.
The higher rates are expected to take effect in February if the North Carolina Utilities Commission agrees they are needed to give the Charlotte-based company a decent return while ensuring electric power remains dependable in Duke Energy's growing service area.
Electricity bills would increase by about $7 a month for the average household if the rate increase is approved. Duke Energy's last rate increase in 2009 raised power costs by 7 percent, but the increase was spread over two years.
Duke Energy said it needs the money to pay for $4.8 billion in greater employee benefit costs, power plant modernization, environmental compliance, and other construction projects approved by state regulators since 2009.
Advocacy groups representing consumers, low-income households, and large electricity users are urging the Utilities Commission to reject the proposed rate increase. State Attorney General Roy Cooper also plans to continue fighting the rate increase.
"A 7.2 percent rate increase is too much for working families and businesses during these tough economic times," Cooper said in a statement.
The rate increase is less than half of Duke Energy's original request of 15 percent on average across residential, industrial and commercial customers. The proposal cleared a major hurdle last week with the endorsement of the commission's Public Staff, which represents consumers.
The electric company also committed to contributing $15 million to programs helping low-income consumers.
The Charlotte company also is seeking a 15 percent average rate increase in South Carolina, which includes 17 percent more for residential customers. The higher rates would take effect on customer bills beginning in February if approved by regulators in that state.