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Energy & Environment
Here are some of the other stories catching our attention.

Partial Settlement Trims Duke Energy's Western NC Rate Hike Request

Duke Energy headquarters in Charlotte
David Boraks
FILE: Duke Energy headquarters in Charlotte.

Duke Energy and the state utility customer advocate have reached a partial settlement that would trim the size of the company's pending rate hike request for western North Carolina, including Charlotte.

The company had requested a 13.4 percent increase. The filing doesn't say how much that would be cut or what effect it would have on proposed rates.  A Duke Energy spokeswoman said the company will offer details in another filing Thursday. The Charlotte Business Journal calculated Thursday that savings could total $140 million, reducing the overall rate increase to about 10 percent.  The Duke spokeswoman would not comment on those figures. 

In a statement Thursday morning, the company said: "We are pleased that we were able to work together to find common ground in this request, and believe this is an important and positive step in this proceeding."

The agreement between the Public Staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission and Duke Energy Carolinas was filed late Wednesday.  It would have to be approved by the Utilities Commission, which begins a formal hearing on the rate request on Monday.

Among other things, the agreement would cut Duke's allowed rate of return, or profit, to 9.9 percent, from the requested 10.75 percent.

It also would reduce the amount Duke can charge customers for compensation and benefits for its top five executives, for operations and maintenance costs at a new gas-fired plant coming online soon, for costs related to the 2016 acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas, and for corporate aviation.  

Still unresolved are whether and how much customers should pay for coal ash cleanups around Duke plants. In another rate hike case last month, regulators ruled that Duke could charge customers for the coal ash cleanup costs. 

The public staff and Duke also disagree on basic charges on customer bills and how recent federal tax cuts should affect the rate increase, whether customers are liable for costs of a nuclear plant the company decided not to build, and for a  big upgrade program for its electricity distribution network.

The Utilities Commission will hear testimony from expert witnesses both for and against the rate hike beginning Monday in Raleigh. It then will issue a final ruling on the increase, as it did recently when it approved a smaller than requested 6 percent increase for Duke Energy Progress, the unit that serves eastern North Carolina and Asheville.

Duke says it wants the new rates in western N.C. to take effect by May 1.


See the full utilities commission filing at NCUC.net