Duke Energy admits to more mistakes in rate hike case - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Duke Energy admits to more mistakes in rate hike case

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North Carolina Utilities Commission Chairman Ed Finley tells Duke Energy "the commission is concerned" about the utility giant's accounting procedures.

NC WARN, has accused Duke Energy of "gross incompetence" or "corporate fraud." The environmental justice group claims the nation's largest utility company deliberately tried to defraud North Carolinians by submitting a rate hike proposal with expenses including corporate jet travel and political contributions.

Duke Energy is requesting $235 million annually in the form of residential, commercial and industrial rate increases.

If approved, the increase would mean the average residential household would pay about $7.50 more per month.

A week of hearings before the commission wrapped up Friday and resulted in $474,000 in deductions that Duke agreed to remove from the settlement deal including:

-          $300,000 in political contributions

-          $156,000 for a power plant study conducted as part of the Duke-Progress merger

-          $419 for a golf tournament

-          $50 for Cincinnati Reds tickets

-          $9,882 in dues paid to the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance

NC WARN's economist William Marcus also highlighted expenses including $1,900 dollars for pecan processors which were gifts to developers and a $1,300 dollar lunch with Chinese bankers. 

"We've identified miscoded items and removed those from the settlement agreement, those are taken out. And we've also made additional adjustments," said company spokesman, Jeff Brooks.

Brooks maintains the company's mistakes were not "deliberate" attempts to overcharge customers.

WNCN asked Brooks what Duke Energy is doing to ensure such mistakes don't happen in future rate hike cases.

"Certainly in any rate case proceeding of this size there's a possibility of a mistake or interpretation of a charge… But we're going to be taking a look at the processes and controls that we use in this process to ensure that we can continue to improve and address any miscoded items that were identified in this case," said Brooks.

The $474,000 in reductions Duke agreed to this week are in addition to about $9 million that the Commission's Public Staff deemed inappropriate and removed last month.

NC WARN believes there is still about $100 million more in inappropriate expenses hidden in the settlement deal but the group's attorney, John Runkle, was shut down Friday when he tried to cross examine members of the Public Staff to prove it.

Finley sustained an objection to the cross examination citing settlement negotiations as "confidential."

NC WARN director Jim Warren says there's a strong chance the parties will now end up in court.

"It is obvious Duke has tried to defraud North Carolinians and the public staff is going along with it," Warren said Friday.

Charlotte Huffman

An award-winning journalist with an investigative edge, Charlotte has driven legislative change with reports on workplace safety concerns and contaminated groundwater. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

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