Consumer advocates for the N.C. Utilities Commission recommended Friday that Duke Energy's N.C. electric rates go up only about one-third as high as Duke has asked.
The commission's Public Staff, which represents customers, said in filings that Duke should be allowed to increase its revenues by $183million a year. That's 37percent of the $496 million jump Duke sought.
Typical residential power bills under the staff recommendation would go up 5 percent, or about $4.50 a month. Duke proposed a 13.5 percent increase, or $11.73 more each month.
The rate request goes before the utilities commission on Oct. 19, following a round of public hearings. The Public Staff had called Duke's request unjustified at a hearing last month in Charlotte.
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Its largest disagreement with Duke was over the utility's return of equity.
Duke asked for an 11.5 percent annual return, while adding that 12.3 percent was justified. The Public Staff said 10percent should be allowed. The difference amounts to $123million a year in revenue.
The staff relied on an outside expert to reach its conclusion, said executive director Robert Gruber. "There's a lot of subjectivity," he said, "but we're not stretching just to get a low rate increase."
Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said the company disagrees that it merits a substantially lower increase.
"We feel we have stated a very clear case" for its request, she said, noting the hundreds of pages Duke has filed detailing its $4.8 billion in power plant upgrades since 2006.
Sheehan added, however, that Duke will continue to seek "common ground" with other parties before the case goes to the utilities commission.
In its last N.C. general rate case, in 2007, the company agreed to a settlement that the commission later adopted, shaving about $4 off monthly residential bills.