Indiana utility office disapproves of Duke Energy’s request to increase rates

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Testimony from Duke Energy's rate increase case is starting to come out, and a lot of organizations disapprove of it.

Indiana's Office of Utility Consumer Counselor Bill Fine has come out and said regulators should deny Duke Energy's request to charge customers as much as $23 more per month and instead roll back the company's current charges by an average of almost $8 a month.

"It’s not surprising there are adversarial positions, and there will be more testimony filed," Duke Energy Spokeswoman Angeline Protogere said.

Duke Energy is requesting $400 million more annually.

The utility company filed the request with the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission in July.

Protogere says the rate request is driven by three factors.

The first is that Duke Energy says its customer base has grown, so it needs additional funds to help cover the infrastructure.

Citizens Action Coalition disagrees.

"To say we added 100,000 customers therefore we need to increase rates is a false argument in our mind because with new customers comes new revenue," Citizens Action Coalition Executive Director Kerwin Olson said.

The utility company says it also needs a more reliable and resilient grid.

"What they failed to mention to the public is they already have an approved grid moderation plan for $1.4 billion, which was approved by the regulatory commission back in 2016," Olson said.

Protogere says Duke has been using that money, but it needs a lot of more to upgrade the grid to cover tree trimming cost.

"Cost have more than tripled to trim a mile of trees just in the last two years alone, and our rates need to reflect that," Protogere said.

Also, the company wants to transition to a cleaner form of energy.

"Duke Energy has no commitment in this rate case to retire their coal fleet. They have no request in this rate request to build clean air resources like wind and solar," Olson said.

In July, Duke Energy did file a plan to transition to a cleaner form of energy: Integrated Resource Plan 2019 (003).

They say the rate increase will help with this process.

"Citizens Action Coalition would like us to transition to 100% renewable energy. That’s not realistic. We need a balance right now of different fuels.”

Olson says their biggest concern is whether Hoosiers can afford the increase.

They presented data that shows thousands of Duke Energy customers already struggle to pay for their utility bill.

"When you go to field hearings, you hear senior citizens on fixed incomes having to make tough decisions on a daily basis. They have to choose between filling a prescription, paying rent or paying utility bill," Olson said.

"We understand that it’s a big part of a household budget that electricity cost can be. That is why we have worked hard to keep rates reasonable, and our rates today are the lowest overall electric rates in the state," Protogere said.

Since this new testimony was released, Duke Energy has until December 4 to file rebuttal testimony.

An IURC evidentiary hearing is scheduled to start on January 22, 2020.

A final decision in this rate case will be made around the summer of 2020.

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