By John Downey
The N.C. Supreme Court has upheld the most recent Duke Energy Carolinas rate increase, ruling in the last of a spate of challenges to Duke utility rate cases filed by the N.C. Attorney General’s office and advocacy groups.
The case upheld Friday involved the 5.1 percent rate hike— phased in over two years — the N.C. Utilities Commissionapproved in September 2013. Attorney General Roy Cooper appeal contended the commission had failed to take proper, independent account of the impact of the rate hike on customers.
Watchdog group N.C. WARN and the environmental organization Greenpeace joined in that appeal and argued a second point. They contended the commission should not have allowed Duke to calculate the share of costs paid by various customer groups based on the usage at the summer peak of consumption.
The two groups argue that allocation method exaggerates the share that should be borne by residential and small-business customers and unfairly reduces the share paid by large industrial users.
The decision, written by Justice Barbara Jackson, rejects both arguments. Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) welcomed the decision.
“Duke Energy agrees with the court’s decision and is pleased that this case has been resolved,” the company says in a prepared statement. “Our rates continue to be below the national average and competitive in the region.”
NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren responded that the decision amounts to the court allowing Duke “to continue rigging electricity rates against small customers.”
Cooper’s argument on the improperly considered impact on customers has been at the center of all the recent appeals of Duke rate hikes.
In 2013, the argument succeeded in getting the court to remand a 7.2 percent Duke Carolinas rate increase to the commission for further findings. The court at the time had that the commission ruling did not demonstrate that the commission had considered the issue. The commission issued a new order upholding the rate increase.
Cooper appealed that ruling again. But the court held in the second appeal that the new ruling showed the commission had taken the issue into consideration.