A month after the N.C. Utilities Commission granted Duke Energy Progress a 7.5 percent residential rate increase, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper asked the N.C. Supreme Court to block it.
Cooper alleges that the Utilities Commission didn't take into account the higher rate's effect on Progress customers, many of whom are struggling in a weak economy.
Cooper noted that North Carolina has one of the highest jobless rates in the nation, which is particularly evident in rural areas that have experienced massive job losses in manufacturing and other trades.
"Many people are already hard pressed to pay their bills, and now isn't the time to ask them to pay more so utilities can make a bigger profit," Cooper said in a statement.
The rate increase, granted in late May, raises the typical household bill by $8 a month, or nearly $100 a year. Progress argued it needs the extra money to pay for about $2.3 billion in plant modernization and other improvements.
Cooper's court challenge is similar to one he filed last year to block a 7.2 percent rate hike for Duke Energy. The N.C. Supreme Court agreed with Cooper and ordered the Utilities Commission to recalculate Duke's rate.
Both Duke's and Progress's rate increases remain in effect during the court appeals.
Raleigh-based Progress is a subsidiary of Charlotte-based Duke, but their rates are independent of each other.
Cooper's appeals contend that customers' economic situations were either ignored or considered as afterthoughts.
Duke has 1.9 million customers in North Carolina, while Progress has 1.3 million customers. In all, Duke and its utility subsidiaries have 7.1 million customers in six states, the most of any electric utility in the country.