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Deal Lets Piedmont Raise Natural Gas Rates, But By Less Than Requested

091421 Robeson LNG.JPG
Piedmont Natural Gas
The Piedmont Natural Gas rate increase settlement requires the company to finish construction on two projects, including this natural gas storage facility in Robeson County.

Business and residential customers of Piedmont Natural Gas could see their rates go up Nov. 1 under an agreement the company reached last week with customer groups and the state's utility consumer advocate.

Piedmont, which is owned by Duke Energy, said rates will rise an average of $5.50 a month, or $65 a year under the settlement.

The agreement still needs approval from the North Carolina Utilities Commission later this year. It also requires the completion of two construction projects — a new liquefied natural gas storage facility in Robeson County and an expansion in Pender and Onslow counties.

The increase would bring $74 million in new revenues to Piedmont. That's about 24% less than the $97 million Piedmont had requested. The company said it will pay for system growth, infrastructure investments, and pipeline safety and security improvements.

The agreement last week was between Piedmont and the Carolina Utility Customers Association, the Carolina Industrial Group for Fair Utility Rates and the North Carolina Utilities Commission Public Staff, which represents consumers.

Under the deal, Piedmont is allowed to collect a 9.6% return on equity.

It's not clear when the utilities commission might vote on the agreement and final rates. A spokeswoman said it could be by the end of the year. The rates will take effect Nov. 1. If for some reason regulators do not approve them, Piedmont would have to refund any excess.

Piedmont Natural Gas has more than 1 million customers in the Carolinas and Tennessee and also supplies natural gas to Duke power plants.

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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.