(RALEIGH) -- Consumers need to be taken into account when setting utility profit margins and evaluating requests for rate increases, Attorney General Roy Cooper argued in court against a rate hike proposed by Duke Energy.
Attorneys for Cooper’s office will appear before the North Carolina Supreme Court on Tuesday in a case that will determine whether or not Duke Energy can raise its customers’ rates by 7.2 percent in order to guarantee a 10.5 percent profit for the company.
“Allowing double-digit profits when families and small businesses are struggling just to keep the lights on is wrong,” Cooper said in a statement to media. “The specific impact on consumers must be part of the equation for determining utility profits and rates.”
The arguments come at a time when both other major power companies operating in North Carolina, Progress Energy and Dominion Power, have also requested double-digit rate increases, and Duke Energy is expected to seek an additional rate increase sometime next year.
Duke Energy originally asked the North Carolina Utilities Commission for a rate increase that would have raised the average customer’s monthly bill by approximately 17 percent. That increase got reduced to a 7.2 percent rate increase, which the Utilities Commission approved but Cooper thinks it’s still too much for consumers to have to pay right now.
The Attorney General’s appeal focuses not on whether Duke Energy should be allowed to recover its investments, but on whether it should be allowed to raise customers’ rates in order to make a 10.5 percent shareholder profit in this challenging economic climate.
The Utilities Commission failed to properly take into account economic conditions faced by consumers as required by NCGS § 62-133, Cooper’s office contends in its briefs. The appeal points out that none of the experts who testified in support of the increase looked at the impact higher electricity rates would have on Duke Energy consumers who may be on fixed incomes or struggling with job losses, business customers facing reduced income, or taxpayers who fund government agencies and local schools.
Hundreds of consumers wrote to Cooper’s office to express their concerns about higher utility bills.
“Increasing rates ‘overall’ or ‘on average’ just doesn’t make sense to me. People in our state are struggling to make mortgage payments, put food on the table, and to find affordable health care,” wrote a consumer from Greensboro, according to information from Cooper’s office.