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Duke Energy seeks 13 percent rate hike for residential customers

Duke Energy is asking regulators to raise residential rates by 13 percent for its North Carolina customers. That doesn't take into account Duke's earlier request for another rate increase. If Duke gets everything it wants, the average household bill would go up $180 a year. That factors in Duke's most recent request to change its base rate and a request made earlier this year to make a fuel-adjusted rate change that would boost rates by 5 percent. Under the latest request, businesses would see their rates go up by 10 percent and 15 percent for industrial customers. The utility says the request of nearly $500 million in its latest filing would offset the cost of several projects over the last 3 years. Duke spokesman Tim Pettit says most of it would go toward the company's efforts to reduce pollution. "By the end of September 2009 we will have invested over $4.8 billion in pollution control equipment on some of our larger plants, new power lines, and transmission lines and new plant construction," says Pettit. "So in order to keep the company in a position to continue to provide that adequate reliable supply of electricity we're having, unfortunately, to ask for a rate increase from our customers." Petit says only a small part of the increase would help pay for financing on expanding the company's Cliffside coal-fired plant. Jim Warren is the head of NC WARN, a group that's pushing Duke to stop using coal and adopt more renewable energy. "People appreciate they're installing pollution controls years after agreeing to do so," says Warren. "But this is about business expansion on Duke's part and it's headlong in the wrong direction economically and environmentally." Duke wants the base rate increase to go into effect in January and the smaller fuel charge change in September. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has intervened in the latest case and plans to look at how the rate increase will impact customers. Duke says it expects to file a request soon for a similar rate increase for its South Carolina customers.