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Cooper: Rate increase 'puts utility profits ahead of people' - Greenville, NC | News | Weather | Sports - WNCT.com

Cooper: Rate increase 'puts utility profits ahead of people'

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GREENVILLE, N.C. -

People in North Carolina will see their utilities rates increase by as much as 7.5 percent during the next two years, a move Attorney General Roy Cooper says "puts utility profits ahead of people."

The North Carolina Utilities Commission approved Duke Energy Progress' proposed settlement Thursday. In the agreement, $178.7 million increase for North Carolina customers will be implemented throughout the next two years.

"We are pleased the N.C. Utilities Commission has approved our settlement in this case. We believe that the settlement reflects a balance between the needs of our company and those of our customers," said Paul Newton, Duke Energy state president – North Carolina.

"We understand there is never a good time to increase rates. However, we believe this approved settlement will allow us to keep the rate increase to customers as low as we reasonably can, and still recover the investments we've made to modernize our system and to ensure safe, reliable and increasingly clean electricity for the future."

In a release, Duke Energy representatives said the last rate case was in 1987. They say this new rate increase will help reduce emissions and generate electricity more efficiently. A portion of the money raised during the two-years, $31.3 million, will go toward the construction of a new natural gas combined-cycle generation at the Sutton Plant in Wilmington.

The increase does not come without some assistance for low-income families. As part of the settlement, Duke Energy Progress will contribute an additional $20 million to help those struggling to pay their utility bills in North Carolina. They say that money will also support training the workforce.

Duke Energy Progress Spokesperson Jeff Brooks says the company will spend the next 60 days laying out plan on how they'll distribute the $20 million.

Attorney General Roy Cooper says it's not enough.

"This order puts utility profits ahead of people. It talks about how much consumers are hurting but sticks them with higher rates anyway. A true analysis of the effect on struggling consumers as required by the North Carolina Supreme Court should result in lower rates so we plan to appeal this ruling," said Cooper.

The attorney general plans to appeal the rate increase to the North Carolina Supreme Court, saying Utilities Commissions should always determine the impact on consumers before approving a rate raise.

Representatives with the North Carolina Utilities Commission say they do hold public meetings before considering the approval of a rate increase, including five public meetings across the state before this recent settlement was approved.

Even after the approved rate increase goes into effect,  Duke Energy Progress officials say the company's rates still remain below the national average.

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