The North Carolina Supreme Court has ordered state utility regulators to go back and reconsider the rate hike it granted Duke Energy last year. Specifically, the court says North Carolina Utilities Commissioners failed to consider how the increase would affect customers in the midst of an economic downturn.
Duke Energy got approval in January 2012 to raise overall electricity rates by just over 7 percent. Embedded in that rate hike was a guaranteed return to Duke's investors of 10.5 percent.
Unacceptable, says Gabe Wisniewski of Greenpeace.
"The (North Carolina) Utilities Commission needs to really take into account the interests of customers in the state, rather than just letting Duke run roughshod over customers so they can line the pockets of shareholders," says Wisniewski. "And the court recognized that explicitly and directly."
Try again, was the ruling from the State Supreme Court: “Fairness to customers is a critical consideration in rate cases."
Attorney General Roy Cooper, who initiated the case, calls the ruling “great news for consumers who spoke loudly and clearly on how hard this rate increase would hit their wallets."
It's unclear how the court's decision will affect the 7 percent rate hike that took effect last year – or the request for another 9.7 percent overall increase Duke Energy has pending before the utilities commission.
Duke Energy has long argued it must strike a balance between the interests of its shareholders who want a return on their investment and customers who need reliable electricity at a fair price.
At least in this case, the court says Duke and its regulators may have gotten the balance wrong.