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NC Regulators Give Duke Reduced Rate Hike, OK Coal Ash Settlement

Duke Energy has seven coal-fired power plants in the Carolinas, including the Allen Steam Station in Belmont.
Duke Energy's Allen Steam Station in Belmont.

North Carolina regulators have approved a rate increase for Duke Energy customers in the central part of the state, including Charlotte. But it's less than what the company asked for. Wednesday's order by the North Carolina Utilities Commission also trims what Duke had hoped to charge customers for the cost of cleaning up coal ash.

The rate hike affects customers of Duke Energy Carolinas, which originally requested a 6% increase.

Regulators granted Duke a temporary increase in August that Duke says had a net zero impact on rates, after refunds of excess income taxes. Regulators said in their press release that the increase would be slightly above that.

Duke filed an update to the request in February that estimated a net 1.3% increase, after settlements with various groups. A spokeswoman said it will be less than that, but it will take several weeks to calculate the final impact on customers.

In a statement, the company said: "We are currently evaluating the North Carolina Utilities Commission’s order on Duke Energy Carolinas’ 2019 rate request and will determine the exact impacts on customer rates in the coming weeks, which will remain below the national average even after new rates go into effect. Our investments over the past several years have helped transition the state to cleaner energy sources, while keeping energy affordable and reliable for customers."

In Wednesday's order, the utilities commission also approved a January settlement between the company, the state Attorney General's office and the Sierra Club over the cost of cleaning up coal ash — the residue left after burning coal for electricity.

Regulators reduced Duke's request to charge customers $342 million for cleanups in 2018 and 2020 by $224 million. The settlement also reduces by $108 million what Duke can charge customers for cleanups through 2030. And it requires Duke to pass on to customers any money received from its insurance companies in ongoing lawsuits over who should pay for coal ash cleanups.

Duke Energy Carolinas covers most of central North Carolina including Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Durham, as well as the far western part of the state.

Regulators are still considering a rate increase request by Duke Energy Progress, which includes the Asheville area and eastern North Carolina.

See the Utilities Commission announcement and other documents at NCUC.net.

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Corrected: April 5, 2021 at 10:02 AM EDT
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the potential impact of the rate increase. Duke Energy says a temporary increase in August approved by regulators had a net zero impact, not 1.3%. Regulators say the approved rate hike will be "somewhat higher" than the temporary rates.
David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.