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Utility price break for industrial customers on ice for now

One of the least popular legacies of the Progress-Duke merger is in limbo.

Two weeks ago, North Carolina regulators rejected a price break for industrial customers in approving a 7.5 percent rate increase for Duke Energy Progress, the Raleigh utility with 1.3 million customers statewide.

On Monday, the N.C. Utilities Commission killed a similar break requested by Duke Energy in rate case that is now pending.

The price breaks would have essentially exempted manufacturing, chemical and other industrial power users from a rate increase. Progress and Duke both said a special exception should be made for industrial power users to buoy the state's economic base.

PSNC Energy to raise natural gas bills by 8 percent in May

PSNC Energy, the Triangle's natural gas utility, is planning to raise rates by 8 precent effective May 1. The change would raise a typical residential bill by about $1 a month.

The Gastonia-based company today told the N.C. Utilities Commission it needs to increase rates to cover the rising wholesale cost of natural gas. Under state law, utilities can pass on their fuel purchase costs to customers as long as the companies prudently negotiate fuel contracts with suppliers.

The change is expected to be approved by the Utilities Commission and will raise PSNC's summer rate from 92 cents a therm to $1 a therm, a unit of heat measure. A typical residential bill, reflecting a monthly average of 16 therms of fuel, will increase from about $15 to $16.

PSNC has nearly 500,000 customers in the state. In the past year, PSNC has raised rates once to reflect its wholesale gas costs.

NC AG jumps into Progress Energy rate case

Barely a month after Progress Energy said it wanted to raise rates in North Carolina, the state Attorney General is jumping into the case.

The AG has a long history of involvement in utility matters over the years, but defers to another state agency, the Public Staff, to protect consumers. Attorney General Roy Cooper said that he has just one dedicated lawyer for utility matters, compared to dozens of attorneys, lawyers and engineers at the Public Staff.

Monday's one-paragraph legal notice filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission signals the regulatory body that the AG will press its case that corporate profit margins at public utilities must be held down during a prolonged economic downturn.

The AG lost the same argument this year before the Utilities Commission on Duke Energy's rate case. The AG has appealed and last week urged the N.C. Court of Appeals to throw out the Utilities Commission's approval of a 7.1 percent residential rate increase for Duke.

"When we see a situation that's important, we intervene," Cooper said. "We were concerned about double-digit profit margins in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression."

Duke Energy's document filings now exceed 5,000 pages -- but most are filed under seal.

The volume of internal corporate records Duke Energy has filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission as part of the agency's investigation into Duke's conduct already exceeds 5,000 pages.

Duke said in filings yesterday that it plans to make additional disclosures in the coming weeks. The filings are part of the fallout from Duke's ill-fated merger with Raleigh-based Progress Energy, which has exposed deep rifts between the two companies and triggered a pair of state investigations.

Only about 600 of Duke's pages are publicly accessible on the commission's web site -- consisting largely of emails sent between board members and CEO Jim Rogers. They have been filed along with nearly 1,900 pages submitted under seal by the Charlotte-based Duke's Raleigh law firm, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice.

The confidential filings cite exemptions to the state's public records laws, which shield records protected by attorney-client privilege as well as corporate trade secrets.

The bulk of the filings, however, were made by the white-shoe New York firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore. This firm is representing six former board members of Progress Energy who joined Duke's board July 2 as part of Duke's merger with Raleigh-based Progress.

Not a single page of the Cravath filings is public.

Speakers decry Duke-Progress merger as monopolistic overreach

The public hearings on the proposed merger between Progress Energy and Duke Energy got underway this morning with dozens of residents waiting their turn to speak in a standing-room only hearing room.

The N.C. Utilities Commission is holding hearings this week in Raleigh on the two power companies' plan to create the nation's largest electric utility. This week's hearings will be the only forum for the public to debate the merger, a fact several speakers decried. 
"We urge you to take these meetings to the communities whose interests you are obligated to serve," Miriam Thompson of Chapel Hill said to a round of applause from the audience
As residents spoke emotionally about the merger -- mostly against the proposal -- Duke CEO Jim Rogers and Progress CEO Bill Johnson stood by, awaiting their turn to make presentations to the utilities commission. 

Duke Energy to raise rates Sept. 1

Duke Energy's customers will see a rate increase of about $5 a month next month as the power company passes on the cost of coal and other fuels used to make electricity.

The N.C. Utilities Commission approved the fuel adjustment yesterday and posted its order online this morning. The increase will raise a typical monthly bill to about $97, as reported by our sister paper, The Charlotte Obsever.

The fuel costs will add about $4.50 to the monthly bill of a household that uses 1,000 kilowatt hours of power.

Additionally, Duke is seeking to add 47 cents a month to residential bills to cover the costs of renewables and efficiency programs. The utilities commission is expected to rule on that request soon.

Duke has 1.8 million customers in the state, including 170,000 in Durham, Chapel Hill and other parts of the western Triangle.

Duke customers can expect steeper cost increases in the future. Duke recently asked the commission for a 15 percent rate hike to cover the costs of new power plants, transmission lines and other operating costs.

Statewide public hearings set on Aqua water rates

North Carolina residents will have seven opportunities to tell state regulators what they think of proposed rate increases by Aqua North Carolina, a private water and sewer service.

The company, with 88,000 customers in the state and nearly 1 million nationwide, is asking for rate hikes averaging about 19 percent. This is the second rate increase for Aqua in the past three years.

The N.C. Utilities Commission, which will review the rate request, has scheduled six public meetings across the state in April and a public hearing in Raleigh in June.

Aqua's move has roiled homeowners who already pay the company about $100 for typical monthly usage, twice as much as residents of Raleigh, Charlotte and other municipal utility departments.


Court blocks Duke Energy's bid to sell power to Orangeburg, S.C.

A state court has blocked Duke Energy's controversial bid to sell power to a South Carolina city outside the Charlotte power company's service area.

The ruling by the N.C. Court of Appeals upholds a 2009 decision by the N.C. Utilities Commission. The commission rejected Duke's business strategy to cherry-pick municipal customers that had been buying power from other utilities.

The utilities commission was concerned that Duke's push for open competition for large customers would wreak havoc with the state's regulated utility system, in which captive customers pay for power plants and infrastructure.

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