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Duke says ‘clean energy’ transition jacking up planned rates

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(The Center Square) – A pending proposal from Duke Energy Progress could add more than $25 to the average customer’s electricity bill, but testimony on the rate increase reveals costs could double in coming years.

Duke Energy has multiple rate increases pending before the North Carolina Utilities Commission, including a proposed 19% hike over three years for Duke Energy Progress and a similar 17.9% increase for Duke Energy Carolinas.

Those increases are tied to efforts to align with the state’s forced transition to “clean energy” promoted by Gov. Roy Cooper, which are outlined in an updated Carolina Resource Plan that Duke Energy presented to the commission on Thursday. Cooper exits office Dec. 31, 2024, just more than 16 months away.

The rate hikes are separate from other pending requests for rate increases over the coming years to recover fuel costs – 16.6% over three years for Duke Energy Carolinas and 4.3% for Duke Energy Progress by next year.

The hikes taken together portend significantly higher electricity bills for 8.2 million North Carolina customers, but the company’s broader plan to shift toward more renewable energy will require substantially more later this decade.

“Given my estimate of the revenue impact of the Company’s (multi-year rate plan) and non-(multi-year rate plan) spend over the next three years, current rates will approximately double between now and the end of the Company’s next rate case,” Dustin Metz, public staff with the NCUC that vets proposals on behalf of ratepayers, testified to the commission.

The new rate case would begin in 2026.

The new Carolinas Resource Plan offers options to reduce carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 70% under three timelines that end in 2030, 2033 and 2035. All three are designed to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

State law tasks the Utilities Commission with a 70% reduction by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050, but offers flexibility on the interim goal. The plan calls for significant investments in solar, battery storage, hydrogen-capable natural gas, wind, pumped storage hydro, and advanced nuclear, and would retire the state’s remaining coal plants by 2035.

The coal power would be replaced with advanced nuclear at Duke’s Bellows Creek facility in Stokes County, and hydrogen-capable natural gas plants at Roxboro in Pearson County and Marshall in Catawba County.

“This plan delivers a path to cleaner energy without compromising grid reliability, affordability or the energy demands of a growing region,” said Kendal Bowman, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president. “We project exponential growth, far beyond what has already made us the top state for business, so we’ve charted an ambitious roadmap for meeting that need while protecting reliability and affordability for our customers.”

The new plan contends the average monthly residential bill impact across the combined system for North and South Carolina for a typical home using 1,000 kilowatt hours would range from $70 by 2038 to achieve the 70% carbon reduction by 2030 to $55 by 2038 to achieve the goal by 2035. The plans would require Duke Energy to invest $130 billion by 2038 to achieve the more ambitious goal or $92 billion to get to the 70% reduction by 2035.

Duke Energy Carolinas serves homes and businesses mostly in western North Carolina, though its eastern-most point includes the Triangle and follows the Interstates 40 and 85 corridor. Duke Energy Progress’ service area covers an area surrounding Asheville, and is otherwise mostly in the central, eastern and southeastern part of the state.

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