NC could reverse stiff Duke rate increase

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The North Carolina Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments calling for a reversal of Duke Energy's hefty electric rate increase approved by state energy regulators in January.

As approved, the ruling raised electric rates for Duke's 1.8 million retail customers in the state by 7.2 percent, an average of $7 a month for residential accounts. That margin is expected to generate an extra $309 million for the utility, which is now the country's largest electric company. It also guaranteed the utility a maximum10.5 percent return on equity. In late 2011, Duke had originally proposed a 15 percent rate hike, then scaled back its request to 12 percent before finally settling on the 7.2 percent.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper believes the rate increase was too high given the tough economy, and his office argued that the North Carolina Public Utility Commission did not do enough in analyzing the impact the rate increase could have on customers.

"Allowing double-digit profits when families and small businesses are struggling just to keep the lights on is wrong," Cooper said in a statement. "The specific impact on consumers must be part of the equation for determining utility profits and rates."

There is no clear timetable for a ruling on the case, and Duke Energy is expected to be rolling out additional rate cases to regulators in the coming months, according to News 14 Carolina.

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