SC Regulators Slap Down Duke Energy Rate Increase, Call Executives ‘Tone Deaf’
Above Photo: Tom Ervin of the South Carolina Public Service Commission speaks during a public hearing about proposed Duke Energy rate increases Thursday, March 14, 2019 at Greenville County Square. (Photo: JOSH MORGAN/ Staff)
State utility regulators on Wednesday reduced a proposed rate increase that would have affected 591,000 Duke Energy customers in the Upstate, and called executives of the energy company “tone deaf” for the proposal.
Duke Energy requested last year to increase its Residential Basic Facilities Rate charge from $8.29 to $28, a spike that annually would’ve resulted in $236.52 more per customer in energy costs.The company later agreed to lower the charge to either $11.70 or $13.09.
The Public Service Commission is expected to announce a final decision on the rate increase in coming weeks.
In March, state utility regulators traveled to the Upstate to hear public comments about the proposed increase. At least 500 people attended the public hearing in Greenville.
Duke Energy spokesperson Ryan Mosier said the energy company disagrees with some of the findings and legal conclusions made by the commission.
“We will complete a thorough review of the order once issued – including any needed clarification – and then evaluate next steps, keeping in mind that it is critical to balance the needs of our customers with smart investments that keep costs as low as possible and keep South Carolina competitive for the long term,” Mosier said in a prepared statement.
Robbins said the directive reflects a change in the Public Service Commission, which last year changed its mission to focus on citizen interests.
“In years past we probably would have seen almost a rubber stamp from the Public Service Commission, so this ruling indicates a real change in the Public Service Commission and in the Office of Regulatory Staff… Citizens who may have felt their voices didn’t matter in the past, we’re proving that their voices do now matter,” Robbins said.
Utility CEO ‘disappointed’ that SC regulatory environment has changed
“It’s clear the regulatory and related business environment in South Carolina has changed, and this will affect the investment climate in the state, in our industry and in others,” Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good said in an earnings call last week.
The state’s seven utility regulators slashed the profit margins that Duke’s two South Carolina utilities can collect from electric customers in the state, possibly cutting into the dividends paid back to Wall Street investors.
They also threw out around $242 million in coal ash cleanup costs that Duke wanted its ratepayers to cover in the coming years.
In doing so, the commissioners signaled a willingness to buck the investor-owned utilities, which have benefited from a cozy relationship with state officials for years.
Part of the change has been fueled by the three new regulators state lawmakers recently elected to the utility commission. Tom Ervin, one of those new commissioners, set the tone when it came to scrutinizing Duke’s rate requests during hearings last month.
In one instance, Ervin openly criticized the company’s failure to provide receipts for nearly $1 million in legal expenses the company wanted to recoup from customers.
“We are not going to be a rubber stamp,” Irvin said bluntly. “If that has been the historic practice, that’s over.
“If you are going to ask for a reimbursement, we have to have proof,” he added.