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Many have criticized Duke Energy's proposed rate increase because significant amounts would be spent cleaning up coal ash.

Duke Energy has reached a possible settlement with critics of its proposed rate increase. The Charlotte-based utility agreed Monday on a “settlement in principle” with the public staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission, company officials said.

If approved by the commission, the agreement would result in an increase in the average resident’s electric bill — but somewhat less than the $96.72 initially requested.

Duke Energy officials are still working out the final numbers, according to company spokeswoman Meredith Archie.

But she confirmed that the result would be something less than the originally proposed $8.06 increase in the average household’s monthly bill.

When the rate increase was initially proposed last year, Duke Energy said it wanted a rate increase netting about $445 million per year. That would take the average residential bill from $108.20 per month to $116.26.

A spokeswoman for the N.C. Utilities Commission’s public staff declined to provide further details of the agreement, saying that specifics would be announced next week. The staff represents the public in rate cases and other matters before the utilities commission, which regulates electric utilities and other public-service providers.

The commission’s final decision on the rate case has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Duke Energy has leeway to set new “temporary” rates, which are allowed whenever it takes regulators longer than nine months to decide a case.

Archie said the utility plans to unveil such a temporary rate structure next week, but it will have a “net-zero” effect on most customers.

Not everybody is in agreement on that score. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign criticized the move Tuesday, saying Duke Energy’s methodology couldn’t guarantee that customers wouldn’t see increases under the new scenario and eventually risk having their power cut off if, for example, their income has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Monday’s peace accord with the public staff came on the heels of a partial settlement agreement Duke Energy also struck late last week with a number of nonprofit groups that focus on the environment, affordable housing and renewable energy.

Under terms of that agreement, the groups would drop their opposition to some of the utility’s plans for upgrading and modernizing parts of its power grid in exchange for programs to protect the environment, expand renewable energy and assist the economically disadvantaged.

Contact Taft Wireback at

336-373-7100 and follow

@TaftWirebackNR on Twitter.

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