SC groups protest Duke Energy request to exponentially raise rates in the Upstate

Post and Courier
March 6, 2024

By Conor Hughes

Consumer and business groups are protesting Duke Energy’s plans to exponentially raise power rates for Upstate customers, saying the increase is too burdensome and that South Carolina ratepayers are being asked to foot the bill for out of state expenses.

The utility said the increase, delayed during the pandemic, is necessary to cover the cost of needed improvements and updates as the region’s population booms.

The total increase for the average residential customer would come out to about $28 per power bill — almost six times more than its last rate hike, according to Duke’s proposal.

The proposed price increase if approved would be implemented in two phases, the first going into effect in August of this year, and the second in summer 2026.

The price change would lead to a roughly $323 million revenue increase for the company.

The last time Duke raised costs for Upstate customers was in 2019 when the average residential customer’s rate went up by just under $5 a month.

According to the company’s application to the South Carolina Public Service Commission, the rate increase it is requesting now would cover expenses including a $952 million investment in hydroelectric facilities, $128 million to solar infrastructure, about $1 billion in maintenance costs at coal units and $1.38 billion to existing nuclear plants.

Duke spokesman Ryan Mosier said the surge in the number of customers the company is servicing in the Upstate factored heavily into the rate increase. That number has risen by about 67,000 since 2018, from 591,00 to 658,000.

Multiple groups are pushing back, arguing the hike will put undue pressure on ratepayers.

According to state Small Business Chamber of Commerce CEO Frank Knapp, Upstate customers shouldn’t have to pay for certain out-of-state expenditures, including $73 million to clean up coal ash basins in North Carolina.

Knapp also pointed to the company’s 40-story, $675 million headquarters in Uptown Charlotte, which opened in 2023 after several years of construction.

“The impact on the ratepayer will be dramatic,” he said. “It will be hard on everybody: small businesses, big business and certainly on consumers.”

The South Carolina AARP also filed a statement saying the higher electrical costs would particularly burden older residents.

“We are concerned about the impact that this step rate case will have on our members, especially those who live on a fixed income,” it said in a letter to the Public Service Commission.

And consumer groups including the state Office of Regulatory Staff have become involved in Duke’s request.

Mosier said South Carolina customers benefit from investments made in North Carolina and vice versa. The company does not take the increase lightly, he said, and worked to delay a price bump through the pandemic, but it is ultimately necessary to cover costs.

The utility applied for its 2019 rate increase in 2018. While it initially requested a change that would amount to more than $15 a month for the average customer, after the application went through the regulatory process, it ultimately received less than one-third of that.

There are public hearings scheduled to discuss the rate change in the coming months.

6 p.m. April 8: Wade Hampton High School Auditorium

6 p.m. April 11: Greenwood 50 Performing Arts Center

6 p.m. April 16: Seneca High School Auditorium

6 p.m. April 22: Anderson County Council Chambers

6 p.m. April 23: Spartanburg County Council Chambers

10 a.m., 5 p.m. May 20: Public Service Commission Hearing Room (101 Executive Drive, Columbia)

10 a.m. May 21-24: Public Service Commission Hearing Room (101 Executive Drive, Columbia)


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