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Duke Energy makes rate increase deal on NC power

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) ó North Carolina’s utility regulators agreed Wednesday to postpone a hearing on Duke Energy’s requested rate increase for the state’s electric consumers to allow more time to finalize a compromise.

The state Utilities Commission’s Public Staff, which represents consumers, had sought a two-day delay of a hearing planned Monday so the deal and supporting information could be prepared. The commission ordered that the deal be filed Monday with the hearing to follow next Wednesday.

“Duke and the Public Staff shall file their written settlement agreement and any supporting testimony not later than Monday,” the commission’s order delaying the evidentiary hearing said.

In June, Duke Energy filed a request for an overall increase of 12.6 percent for its 1.8 million North Carolina customers, bringing in an extra $496 million in annual revenue. It would be the Charlotte-based power company’s first general rate increase in North Carolina since 1991. It would have raised a typical monthly electric bill by about $11 to $93 beginning Jan. 1.

But the Public Staff said Duke deserved only an overall increase of 4.7 percent, or about $183 million a year in added revenue.

Even with the requested increase, Duke said rates in its territory in North Carolina and South Carolina will remain well below national averages.

The company said its current rates are 31 percent below national averages in North Carolina, and Duke cut rates by an average of 7.5 percent in 2007.

Duke said about 75 percent of the increase it sought would be used to recover the $4.8 billion the company has spent since 2006 on pollution control equipment, power lines and plants as Duke looks to modernize its power plants and retire old units.

Like other utilities, the recession has cut demand for electricity in Duke’s five-state service territory that also includes Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. The company responded with a drive to cut costs by $100 million this year.

Duke shares rose 4 cents to $15.65 in trading Wednesday afternoon. The shares have traded between $11.72 and $17.35 over the past year.

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