By David Boraks
Duke Energy is urging state regulators to approve rate increases at its two North Carolina electric utilities, including money to pay for cleanups of toxic coal ash.
Duke treasurer Karl Newlin told the North Carolina Utilities Commission Monday that if the company isn’t allowed to recover coal ash cleanup costs, it could lead to a downgrade in its credit ratings and scare off investors. His testimony came during the first day of a public hearing on the proposed rate increases that are being conducted online.
Coal ash is the residue left after burning coal to make electricity and contains heavy metals that can cause cancer. Duke’s critics say that the company and its investors should absorb the multibillion-dollar cost to clean up millions of tons of coal ash that have piled up at its North Carolina coal plants for decades.
But Newlin argued that if that happens, “the end result will be a marked deterioration in the companies’ credit quality, which will inevitably lead to a higher cost of capital as the companies seek to attract investors to fund their extensive capital needs.”
“The deterioration in credit quality will be exacerbated by more favorable regulatory treatment for its utilities in neighboring jurisdictions,” Newlin said. “Investors vote with their wallets and will go elsewhere if the returns they see from the companies do not meet their requirements or they do not believe that credit quality will be maintained over the life to that investment.”
Duke wants to raise revenues by an average of about 6% in its central North Carolina territory, Duke Energy Carolinas, which includes Charlotte. And it’s seeking an average 15.6% increase for Duke Energy Progress, which includes eastern North Carolina and parts of the mountains.
Residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month would see their monthly bills rise from $102.71 to $108.43 in the Duke Energy Carolinas area, and from $120.44 to $137.73 in Duke Energy Progress territory, according to the utilities commission.