Duke Energy Carolinas seeks big rate increases for gas costs

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A Duke Energy Corp. subsidiary for North Carolina electric customers has asked state regulators to let it raise residential rates by 16.6% in the coming months largely to recover their fuel costs, which it said soared mainly from natural gas prices last year.

Duke Energy Carolinas serves about 2 million households and businesses in western and central North Carolina. It said Wednesday that if the request is approved by the state Utilities Commission, the typical residential customer’s monthly bill would increase from $115.01 to $134.11.

The Charlotte-based utility emphasized such approved requests don’t widen anticipated profits, but rather cover its expenses to obtain the fuel that generates electricity, such as natural gas, coal and nuclear rods. Its customers paid $1 billion less than their actual cost of fuel during 2022, the company said in a news release. Higher natural gas demand and tight supplies drove most of the rate request, the company said.

“Fuel costs to generate electricity have more than tripled over the last year, which is a challenge faced by energy providers across the country,” said Kendal Bowman, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president. “Our rates in North Carolina are far below the national average, and we’re doing everything we can to keep customer bills as low as possible.”

Tuesday's application with the commission, which marks the largest ever fuel filing increase in the history of either of Duke Energy’s North Carolina electric subsidiaries, seeks a 16.2% residential rate increase by Sept. 1, with a 0.4% increase by Jan. 1. Duke Energy Carolinas also said it would seek a 15.2% rate increase for commercial customers and 12.1% increase for industrial customers. The subsidiary's coverage area includes Charlotte, Durham and the Triad.

The other North Carolina electric-producing subsidiary, Duke Energy Progress, will make its annual fuel filing in June, the news release said. It has 1.5 million customers in eastern and central North Carolina -- including those in Raleigh, Fayetteville and Wilmington -- as well as in and near Asheville.

These filings are separate from the broader multiyear rate filings at the commission in recent months by Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress. The additional revenues sought there would go in part to make electric grid reliability and security improvements and help it collect more power from renewable sources.

The seven-member Utilities Commission generally has the final say on rate filings, barring appeals. Companies and customer advocates -- the commission’s Public Staff among them -- can push back on Duke Energy’s requests.

Annual fuel rate filings reflect changing commodity prices and supply and demand. Before a 9.6% fuel filing increase for residential customers last year by Duke Energy Carolinas, the fuel rates had dropped for these customers in eight of the past 10 years in North Carolina, Duke Energy said. While natural gas prices have fallen recently, North Carolina law prevented the utility from seeking a rate adjustment for the higher prices right away.