N.C. AG appealing utility rate hike

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 30, 2012, 9:25am


RALEIGH, N.C. (Legal Newsline) - North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper wants the state Supreme Court to overturn a utilities commission's decision approving a Duke Energy rate hike.

The 7 percent increase, approved earlier this year by the North Carolina Utilities Commission, is wrong for consumers and businesses, the attorney general argues.

"The economic realities faced by North Carolina consumers must be put before company profits," Cooper said in a statement Wednesday. "Hundreds of people have contacted my office to let us know they can't afford to pay much more for electricity in these tough times."

Duke Energy previously applied to the commission to request that it be allowed to increase its revenues by about $646 million.

That originally proposed increase would have raised the average Duke customer's monthly bill by about 17 percent, or, in many cases, an extra $20 a month.

Cooper's office then intervened.

Eventually, Duke and the commission agreed to the 7 percent hike.

The attorney general's notice of appeal, filed Wednesday with the commission's Raleigh division, focuses not on whether Duke should be allowed to recover its investments, but on if it should be allowed to raise customers' rates to make a 10.5 percent shareholder profit.

"None of the cost of capital witnesses incorporated consumer economic data into their analysis, such as the impact on Duke's fixed income customers, the impact of reductions in household income in the homes of many consumers through loss of jobs or unemployment, the impact of reduced revenue on the budgets of business consumers, the impact on State agencies and ratepayers in challenging budget times and the resulting impact on taxpayers, the impact on cities, counties, and schools, or the impact on job creation," Assistant Attorney General Margaret A. Force wrote in the five-page appeal.

Cooper's office also argues that the commission's decision to grant the rate hike is not supported by evidence.

"Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the public testimony opposed a rate increase, including the rate increase set forth in the stipulation, and spoke of the burden and hardship that any rate increase would impose during these economic times," Force wrote.

Simply put, Cooper says, many families and businesses are already struggling to pay their bills "and the Court needs to take this into account."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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