Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Duke seeks rate break for struggling businesses

Duke Energy has asked for state approval to offer its largest industrial and commercial customers in North Carolina a one-year, 6 percent rate reduction at a shareholder expense of about $13 million.

Duke's Carolinas industrial sales have dropped 20 percent since 2002 while other customer classes grew. The N.C. Utilities Commission approved a 7 percent rate hike in January.

The proposal now before the commission would help manufacturers survive the economic slump, Duke wrote in its filing. It would also help stabilize an industrial customer base that brings in 40 percent of Duke's N.C. retail revenue.

"The company believes that efforts like this pilot can help retain the industrial base in North Carolina so that the state can experience economic success,"  Duke wrote. "The company believes that retaining its industrial base is not only good for the state of North Carolina's economy, but that it helps keep rates competitive by keeping larger customers on the system to help pay for fixed costs that would otherwise be spread to other customers."

Duke would offer the rate reductions on a first-come basis to customers with annual demand of 75 kilowatts or more on schedules LGS, I, OPT-G, OPT-I, OPT-E or HP. The program would be capped at  a total of 700,000 kilowatts.

Examples of eligible customers are those that are in financial distress, have lower-cost energy options, are considering a relocation or will commit to retain current job levels or energy use.

In a settlement leading to the January rate hike, Duke agreed to donate $11 million of shareholder money to community nonprofit groups to help low-income residents with their energy costs. N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has appealed the rate hike.

Spokesman Jason Walls said Duke is "evaluating possible options to support our customers in the economic recovery" in South Carolina.


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