Bryan Cohen Nov. 15, 2012, 4:36pm

RALEIGH, N.C. (Legal Newsline) - North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper argued in court against a rate hike proposed by Duke Energy.

Attorneys with Cooper's office appeared before the North Carolina Supreme Court on Tuesday to argue that consumers must be taken into account when evaluating rate increase requests and settling utility profit margins. The case will determine if Duke Energy can raise the rates of its customers by 7.2 percent to guarantee a profit of 10.5 percent for the company.

"Allowing double-digit profits when families and small businesses are struggling just to keep the lights on is wrong," Cooper said. "The specific impact on consumers must be part of the equation for determining utility profits and rates."

Duke Energy originally requested that the North Carolina Utilities Commission grant a 17 percent rate increase for average customers. The commission reduced and approved the increase once it dropped to a 7.2 percent increase. Cooper's office said the increase is still too much for consumers to pay.

Cooper alleges that the NCUC failed to take into account economic conditions faced by consumers and that none of the experts who testified in support of the increase looked at the impact higher electricity rates would have on consumers with fixed incomes, reduced incomes and job losses.

Cooper's office received complaints from hundreds of consumers about the potential rate increase.

The arguments come at a time when Dominion Power and Progress Energy, the other major power companies operating in the state, are also requesting double-digit rate increases. Duke Energy is expected to seek another rate increase at some point in 2013.

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