By John Downey
NC WARN has filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, contending there is a conflict of interest between his sponsorship of legislation about utility regulation and his law firm’s work for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The complaint, filed Wednesday morning with the N.C. Ethics Commission, raises questions about Blue’s work on behalf of Senate Bill 559 and the work that his law firm, Blue LLP, is doing on 32 condemnation cases in North Carolina for the pipeline.
The legislation, which passed the state Senate last week, is strongly supported by Duke Energy Corp. Among other things, the bill would allow the N.C. Utilities Commission to approve multiyear rate plans for utilities to pay the costs of long-term projects, specifically approved by the commission in a rate case, that could qualify for annual rate increases for three to five years — without additional rate cases.
The pipeline is a partnership of Charlotte-based Duke (NYSE: DUK), which owns 47% of the $7.8 billion project, Dominion Energy Inc. (NYSE: D), which owns 48% and Southern Co. (NYSE: SO).
“It appears Senator Blue is using his legislative position for the benefit of clients in his private law firm practice,” the complaint says.
It alleges that SB 559 would “significantly alter the system by which monopoly electric utilities recover capital investments, operating expenses and profits from ratepayers.” And it says that this would benefit Duke and Dominion, which between them produce about 90% of the electricity in the state. Duke alone accounts for close to 80% of North Carolina’s electricity.