A rare bit of good news for South Carolina energy consumers … sort of.
Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy – which has been under relentless criticism since proposing massive rate and fee hikes on nearly 800,000 residential customers in the Palmetto State – got its hand slapped this week by state regulators.
Flexing their muscle for the first time in a long time, members of the S.C. Public Service Commission (SCPSC) blasted Duke for its “excessively high” and “tone deaf” rate increase proposal – which they promptly slashed by 54 percent.
Regulators also went after company profits and executive income, expressly barring compensation from rate hikes for four of the company’s top executives – including chief executive officer Lynn Good.
SCPSC members also scaled back the amount of money Duke is allowed to recoup in connection with its costly coal ash cleanup efforts – yet another blow to the company’s bottom line.
In February of 2014, a Duke-owned facility in Eden, North Carolina – just south of the North Carolina-Virginia border in Rockingham County – spilled an estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash (and 27 million gallons of waste water) into the Dan River. Duke pleaded guilty to criminal negligence in connection with this incident, which exposed “pervasive, system-wide shortcomings” in its handling of coal ash.
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(Via: MEBiery/ Flickr)
The company has dealt with additional coal ash issues in the aftermath of flooding from Hurricane Florence last fall. In fact, these issues prompted investors to rip the company over its handling of the “dirty” energy source.
Nonetheless, Duke was able to convince the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) last year that its customers should pay for a big chunk of the cleanup costs.
South Carolina regulators were not so easily moved …
Duke ratepayers will still see rate increases beginning on June 1, but they will not be nearly as drastic as the rate hikes the company initially envisioned.
Duke, incidentally, is one of the companies that solicited a bid to purchase state-owned utility Santee Cooper in the aftermath of the latter’s starring role in #NukeGate, a spectacularly botched command economic debacle that resulted in the abandonment of a pair of next generation nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C.
After $10 billion had been spent on the project – most of it coming from government debt and socialized rate hikes.
It is unclear at this point whether the SCPSC decision on the Duke rate hike will adversely impact its ability to play in the Santee Cooper negotiations – which state lawmakers decided to kick down the road on Thursday.
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