Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rates could save customers millions, analysts say

Customers of Duke Energy Progress could save $50 million a year by switching to a little-used rate, says a Wilmington firm that audits and analyzes utility rates.

Utility Management Services says most residential customers with electric bills of more than about $125 a month can save money on the R-TOUD, or time-of-use, rate schedule. The schedule charges more for electricity during weekday high-demand periods and much less at night and on weekends, when there is less demand for electricity.

Most large-use customers realize a net savings -- equal to about one month's bill -- over a 12-month period, according to UMS' analysis. Duke Progress serves Eastern North Carolina and the Asheville area.

Here's the catch: Duke Progress is phasing out R-TOUD for new customers on Nov. 30, and will replace it with a new time-of-use schedule that UMS says won't save customers as much money.

But Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks says the new schedule, R-TOU, has changes that customers will like.

Under the old schedule's on-peak/ off-peak prices, he said, some customers could see their bills actually go up. That happened if they weren't careful to run high-demand appliances such as the dishwasher or clothes dryer at night or weekend off-peak hours.

"The key to any time-of-use rate is aligning habits to the benefits of the rate," Brooks said.

The new schedule's peak, shoulder and off-peak times are intended to send "price signals" that motivate customers to pay attention to their energy use. Those who don't will not end up paying more than if they used a standard rate. "The flexibility will be more attractive to customers," Brooks said.

R-TOUD has been around for 30 years but has only 30,000 customers. Utility Management Services says another 500,000 customers could save money by using the rate.

The company's founder, Brian Coughlin, testified as an expert witness on behalf of business customers during Duke Progress' rate hearing before the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Duke CEO among Fortune's 50 "most powerful women"

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, who took over leadership of the nation's largest regulated utility on July 1, has made Fortune's list of the 50 most powerful women in business.

Good landed at No. 16 on the list, just behind business stars including Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg (No. 5) and Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard (No. 9). She's the highest-ranked new member of the 50-woman club.

Fortune writes that Duke's former chief financial officer, 54, was elevated to "to steady the ship after Duke's merger with Progress Energy, executive departures and an investigation (actually two) into whether misled state regulators about management of the combined company."

Good succeeded former CEO Jim Rogers, who will retire as chairman of Duke at the end of the year. Rogers agreed to retire as part of Duke's settlement of the merger investigation by the N.C. Utilities Commission. Lead director Ann Maynard Gray will replace Rogers.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Federal judge says coal ash needs regulation

In a partial victory for two North Carolina advocacy groups, among several others, a federal judge has ruled that the government needs to regulate coal ash.

The order was signed Monday by Judge Reggie Walton in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It grants in part a claim by 11 advocacy groups including Appalachian Voices of Boone, Asheville's French Broad Riverkeeper and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which operates in the Carolinas.

The groups say the order "marks the first step toward federally enforceable safeguards, monitoring and protections against coal ash."

Their lawsuit, filed in 2012, sought to force the Environmental Protection Agency to write new regulations for coal ash, the power plant byproduct that's been the focus of lawsuits against Charlotte-based Duke Energy.

The groups contend EPA has failed for more than 30 years to regulate ash. The issue burst into national consciousness in 2008, when a rupture at a TVA plant in Tennessee spilled 1 billion gallons of ash over 300 acres.

Worries about contamination of Mountain Island Lake, Charlotte's water supply, groundwater and other waters -- publicized by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and other advocates -- pushed the state of North Carolina this summer to sue Duke Energy over ash violations.

EPA, meanwhile, proposed federal regulations on ash in 2010 but has not enacted them.

This week's terse order rules in favor of the environmental groups' claims that EPA violated the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which governs solid and hazardous wastes, by failing to review the impact of ash on water and air quality.

The court ruled for the EPA on two other claims on review of standards that define hazardous waste. Environmental advocates say ash should be listed as hazardous because of the potentially toxic heavy metals it contains. The power industry says such a classification would raise the costs of handling ash by billions of dollars.

The court is expected to expand on the order within 30 days.