By David Ranii
Progress Energy Carolinas is asking state regulators for a rate increase that would boost the average household electricity bill of its North Carolina customers by nearly $180 a year.
The Raleigh-based utility’s request for higher rates, submitted Friday afternoon, immediately drew opposition from consumer advocacy and environmental groups.
“We have thousands of families whose power is disconnected in North Carolina every year” because they can’t pay their bills, said Al Ripley, director of consumer and housing affairs at the N.C. Justice Center. “We simply cannot afford to increase rates dramatically.”
Progress stated in its filing that it needs to pay for investments in cleaner energy and modernizing its power plants. Over the past 16 months, the company said, it has invested more than $1.3 billion to bring two gas-fueled plants online and it’s constructing a third in Wilmington. It’s also retiring a dozen coal-fired plants.
“We know it isn’t popular,” Progress spokesman Mike Hughes said. “It’s not something we wanted to do. We have put it off as long as we can.”
It’s the first rate increase Progress has sought in a quarter-century, although the utility’s customers haven’t been insulated from higher bills during that span. Fluctuations in fuel-related costs, which Progress can’t control, has added about $20 a month to the typical residential bill in the past decade.