By Mike Hanson
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If you’ve looked at your power bill lately, you’ve probably noticed the increases.
Now the North Carolina State Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether or not Duke Energy is charging homeowners too much money. It stems from two rate increases in recent years that have the North Carolina Attorney General’s office concerned.
Attorney General Roy Copper’s office along with the environmental group North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, or NC WARN say Duke is charging homeowners too much, and super consumers like server farms and factories too little.
The seven justices heard from lawyers in Cooper’s office arguing that not enough consideration is given to how rate increases will impact average paying customers. They say that basing the rates on the hottest hour of the year does more harm than good. Both giant power users and home owners use about the same amount of energy in North Carolina, yet little guys pay $1.9 billion more for electricity.
Duke Energy Monday argued the North Carolina Utilities Commission got it right when they allowed the two rate increases. They point out the average home will pay as little as 7 bucks a month extra. Duke says they need guaranteed profits to attract investors to build newer plants and prevent blackouts.
Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks told reporters after the hearing:
“We’ve presented a strong case that the Utilities Commission did properly review thousands of pages of information and witness testimony including public and expert testimony when it determined the economic impact on customers as part of the rate case. We’ve worked in filing our case and working through this case to reach a conclusion that balances the concerns of our customers with the needs of the utilities and does take in to account the impact it will have on those customers.”
Jim Warren of NC WARN countered;
“The whole system is flawed and we are looking for the courts to correct the coddling the regulators are doing of Duke Energy. Our main case is that Duke Energy is rigging rates against small customers so they can recruit more high using customers into the state.”
There isn’t a time table for when the Supreme Court will come back with a decision. It could take weeks or months. NC WARN for its part says they don’t have a plan B.
This year’s hottest hour occurred on July 21 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. That is the hour Duke Energy sets rates by. Duke says it has to be the hottest hour of the year to set their rates to prevent blackouts. The method has been used for the last 40 years.
See video coverage here.