Bryan Cohen Aug. 21, 2013, 6:53pm

RALEIGH, N.C. (Legal Newsline) - North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper filed a brief Tuesday opposing Duke Energy's latest request for higher electricity rates.

Cooper filed the brief with the North Carolina Utilities Commission to oppose the latest rate increase request by Duke Energy Carolinas, which could raise rates by 4.5 percent for the first two years and 5.1 percent thereafter. The rate increase comes after Duke Energy put a 7.2 percent rate increase into place earlier in 2013, an increase Cooper's office is continuing to fight.

Cooper said North Carolinians cannot afford another rate hike.

"People are already struggling to pay their bills and utilities want to raise rates yet again," Cooper said. "We'll continue to fight these increases that fail to adequately take consumers into account."

The brief focuses on whether Duke Energy should be allowed to raise rates to make a 10.2 percent shareholder profit and a capital structure of 53 percent equity during a challenging economic period. Cooper cited an analysis by Moody's showing that North Carolina consumers pay a higher percentage of their household disposable income for electricity than all but six other states in the U.S.

Cooper's office battled Duke Energy's last rate increase all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court. In an April 12 ruling, the court agreed with Cooper's assessment that state law requires the Utilities Commission to consider changing economic conditions when setting fair utility rates. The court ordered the commission to determine the impact on consumers prior to setting an allowable profit margin and agreeing to increased rates.

"The Supreme Court agreed that looking at profits without considering the impact on customers simply isn't fair," Cooper said. "This ruling should lead to lower utility company profits and consumer rates."

Cooper is also battling a 7.5 percent rate hike for Duke Energy Progress that was approved by the commission earlier this year.

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