North Carolina consumers cannot afford another increase in their power bills, Attorney General Roy Cooper said Wednesday, Aug. 21, soon after his office filed to oppose Duke Energy’s latest request for higher rates.
“People are already struggling to pay their bills and utilities want to raise rates yet again,” Cooper said. “We’ll continue to fight these increases that fail to adequately take consumers into account.”
Cooper filed with the North Carolina Utilities Commission to oppose the latest rate hike request by Duke Energy Carolinas, which could increase rates by 4.5 percent for the first two years and then 5.1 percent after that.
This latest request to raise rates comes on top of a 7.2 rate hike for Duke Energy customers put in place earlier this year, which Cooper fought successfully to the North Carolina Supreme Court and is continuing to oppose.
The 57-page brief filed Aug. 20 focuses not on whether Duke Energy should be allowed to recover its investments, but on whether it should be allowed to raise customers’ rates in order to make a 10.2 percent shareholder profit and a capital structure of 53 percent equity in this challenging economic climate.
In the brief, the Attorney General cites an analysis by Moody’s that shows that North Carolinians currently pay a higher percentage of their household disposable income for electricity than all but six other states in the nation.
Testimony from Duke Energy customers against the rate increase illustrates their struggle with current utility rates. A family farmer speaking at a public hearing in Hillsborough paid $35,000 for electricity last year and said, “[T]o be honest, we can’t afford another increase.”
A senior in Charlotte testified that many seniors like her struggle to pay their power bills, cutting off their heat in the winter and their air conditioning in the summer because they cannot afford it: “And then you’re asking us to pay more money each and every year. You want us to pay more and more and more and we simply can’t do it.”
The Attorney General fought Duke Energy’s last rate increase all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court, winning a ruling that set a new precedent for utility rate cases.
In an April 12 ruling, the Court agreed with Cooper’s assessment that state law (NCGS § 62-133) requires the Utilities Commission to consider changing economic conditions in setting utility rates that are fair to consumers. The Supreme Court ordered the Utilities Commission to determine the impact on consumers before setting an allowable profit margin and agreeing to raise rates.
Cooper is continuing to push the commission to reduce the rate increase it granted to Duke Energy in that case.
“The Supreme Court agreed that looking at profits without considering the impact on customers simply isn’t fair,” Cooper said. “This ruling should lead to lower utility company profits and consumer rates.”
Cooper is also fighting a 7.5 percent rate increase for Duke Energy Progress, formerly Progress Energy, that was approved by the commission earlier this year.