Current Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2014 04:02:54 -0400
Duke Energy is proposing another increase in electric rates — meaning residents and local governments could face their third round of rate hikes since 2009.
The N.C. Utilities Commission will consider the proposed average rate hike of 9.7 percent, which could raise residents’ average monthly bills by about $14.
If approved, the rate hike could go into effect as early as this fall.
The University buys about 80 percent of its electricity from Duke Energy for about $35 million annually, said Philip Barner, UNC’s interim director of energy services.
University departments, including UNC Hospitals and on-campus housing, were warned in the fall about rising electricity costs so they could prepare, Barner said.
“Nobody’s happy about having to pay higher bills, but we do our best to prepare them,” he said.
Sharon Hall, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy, said most of the revenue from the rate increases will provide money for new power plants and improve existing infrastructure.
“Really this rate case is driven by the iron in the ground of new and more efficient investments,” she said.
Duke Energy raised rates by an average of 7.2 percent last February.
But the rate increases have been criticized by local governments.
The N.C. League of Municipalities is preparing a joint-action program to advocate for rate concessions, said Paul Meyer, the group’s director of governmental affairs.
The league was approached by local leaders who felt the proposed rate increases were an “unfair burden” for cities and taxpayers, he said.
The town of Chapel Hill will join the program, said John Richardson, the town’s sustainability officer.
Chapel Hill’s budget for electricity from Duke Energy for the next fiscal year is about $1.1 million. The proposed increase would cost the town about $76,000 to $79,000 more.
“Our hope for participation is that there is some benefit to our shared experience,” he said.
Orange County Water and Sewer Authority has also joined the program. Its annual budget for electricity from Duke Energy is about $1.4 million, and costs would increase by $136,000 if the proposed rate hike passes.
The increase could be a burden on residents, particularly those with a low and fixed income, said Bill Rowe, general counsel and director of advocacy for the N.C. Justice Center.
“Having any increase on living expenses is difficult, and this is a big one,” he said.
Hall said Duke Energy has programs to assist some customers who have difficulty paying their electricity bills.
“There’s never a good time to raise rates,” Hall said. “But we want to remind people that electricity is still a really good value.”
Junior Maria Castrillon, a public policy major, said she will be more conscious of her energy use if her bill increases.
“It’s not that bad, but then you have to think about how those couple of dollars add up.”
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