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David Rolfe/Journal

The state Utilities Commission will conduct three public hearings in January, including one in Greensboro, on Duke Energy Carolinas LLC’s rate hike request.

On Aug 25, the utility filed a request to raise residential customers’ rates by an average of 16.7 percent annually to help pay for a 10-year modernization initiative.

The Greensboro public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Guilford County Courthouse, 201 S. Eugene St., Greensboro. The other hearings are set for Jan. 16 in Franklin and Jan. 30 in Charlotte.

The proposed rate hike would affect about 2 million customers from Durham to the western part of the state, including the Triad, and amount to $647 million in new annual revenue.

If approved, it would be the first rate increase for that part of the state in five years.

Residential customers’ share of that increase would be $366 million, according to a legal notice published in Tuesday’s edition of the Winston-Salem Journal.

The commission could take seven to nine months to decide whether to grant a rate increase and by how much.

The utility projects a residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity monthly would pay about $122.68, reflecting an increase of $18.72.

The utility also wants to raise its rate by an average of 10.9 percent on commercial and industrial customers in that region.

Duke Energy Carolinas separately filed a request for commission approval to halt its Lee nuclear plant project near Gaffney, S.C.

The Charlotte Observer reported the utility wants to be allowed to recoup up to $636 million in Lee project development costs from customers. The recouping would represent $53 million of the annual revenue increase for a 12-year period.

David Fountain, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president, said in an August interview with the Journal that “we don’t take this (rate increase) lightly and understand its impact on low-income households and small businesses.”

Although Duke Energy Carolinas gained on Dec. 27 federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval to build the Lee plant and operate two nuclear units, it has chosen to abandon the project, primarily because the nuclear-reactor supplier, Westinghouse, filed for bankruptcy March 29.

Duke Energy Carolinas had estimated the total Lee plant project cost at $12.94 billion. It has spent $542 million in project development costs as of June 30.

The rate increase will help the utility pay for compliance with state and federal regulations involving managing coal ash since 2015, Fountain said.

In April, the NC Conservation Network filed a petition with the utilities commission about separating the coal ash costs from any rate increase request by Duke Energy.

Duke Energy lawyers said critics are wrong in urging the commission to consider the company’s coal ash costs separately.

Duke Energy contends the great majority of its coal ash cleanup costs across North Carolina — expected eventually to top $4.5 billion — are part of the routine life-cycle of its 14 active and retired coal-fired plants.

Meanwhile, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein and other intervenors, including the Sierra Club, Appalachian State University and the Carolina Utility Customers Association, argued that Duke Energy’s coal ash dilemma simply contains too many factors that utility executives brought on themselves, or that otherwise beg closer examination than the company’s proposed bookkeeping maneuver suggests.

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