Environment

Duke Energy to ask utilities commission for rate increase to cover coal ash cleanup, “generate cleaner power”

Live in one of the areas shaded green? You’ll pay more for electricity if Duke Energy Progress receives approval for a rate hike from the state utilities commission. (Map: Duke Energy Progress)

Duke Energy Progress called them “rate adjustments” in its news release, but translated from utility-speak, this means a rate hike. Yesterday Duke Energy notified the utilities commission  of its intent to ask for a rate “adjustment” around June 1.

In its news release, the utility said the “investments” in the rate proposal will include covering costs, estimated at $4.5 billion, associated with the coal ash cleanup. Duke also plans to use monies from a rate hike to recover costs associated with the emergency response to Hurricane Matthew. The utility also said it will “modernize” the state’s electric system and “generate cleaner power” — although the company did not specify whether that is via renewables or natural gas.

While cleaner than coal, natural gas is not clean. Its extraction, often by fracking, leaks methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and creates other environmental hazards, particularly in groundwater. Natural gas pipelines, such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, co-owned by Duke and Dominion, also harm the environment through clear-cutting of forests, potentially contaminating surface and groundwater and displacing wildlife. There are environmental justice issues associated with pipeline construction and fracking, as well.

Unless the ask is minimal, it’s unlikely the utilities commission will approve the full amount. Duke’s last request for a rate increase occurred in 2011, when it asked the commission for approval of a 15 percent hike. The commission granted the utility just a 5 percent increase. In 2009, the utility asked for a 12.6 percent increase, but received approval for just 7 percent.

Duke Energy Progress has about 1.3 million customers in central and eastern North Carolina and in the Asheville region. Major cities include Raleigh, Wilmington and Jacksonville.

Duke Energy Carolinas, which has a different service territory, is not affected by this filing.

After the rate increase is officially filed with the utilities commission, there will be a series of public hearings and comment periods. This is often a protracted process, so Gov. Roy Cooper’s recent appointees to the utilities commission could help decide on the increase. If they are confirmed by the House and the Senate, appointees Charlotte Mitchell and Dan Clodfelter would become commissioners on July 1.

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