The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear a case Tuesday claiming Duke Energy's latest rate hike is harmful to customers and should not have been granted. Attorney General Roy Cooper hopes the high court will strike down Duke's rate hike and change the way future increases are approved by regulators.
Duke Energy originally asked for permission to raise rates for the average household by 17%, but regulators agreed to just 7%.
Even at that lower rate, Duke managed to lock in a 10.5% profit for shareholders, which is where Attorney General Roy Cooper takes issue.
"Double-digit profits for utility companies are wrong when so many families and businesses are struggling just to keep the lights on," says Cooper.
Stories of such struggles poured in to the North Carolina Utilities Commission earlier this year as it considered Duke's rate increase. But how much did those concerns figure into the commission's final decision? Not enough, argues Cooper. He points to a phrase in the law requiring the commission to consider "changing economic conditions" when setting rates.
Duke Energy argues that phrase applies only to the effect of economic conditions on shareholders, not customers. So Cooper's appealing to the state's highest court.
"What we want the NC Supreme Court to do is say that is the law – you must consider the impact of the changing economic environment on consumers when deciding the profit margin and send this case back to the utilities commission for reconsideration," says Cooper.
A ruling like that could change the game for future rate increase requests – including the one Duke plans to submit early next year and a 14% hike its subsidiary Progress Energy already has pending.
The state agency appointed to advocate for utility consumers joined the case in support of Duke Energy, saying the rate hike strikes a fair balance for company and its customers.
Arguments before the NC Supreme Court are scheduled to begin Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.