Duke Energy received preferential treatment and exclusive access from the North Carolina Utilities Commission Public Staff when that agency analyzed the impacts on customers’ bills of a sweeping energy bill that the utility is backing, according to records obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute. The records indicate that Duke’s Vice President for Carolinas Rates & Regulatory Strategy and other Duke employees worked collaboratively with Public Staff on the analysis over the last several months. 

The Public Staff is an independent agency within the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC), which is responsible for regulating Duke Energy and other utilities. It exists to “represent the interests of the using and consuming public in matters pending before the Commission.”

House Bill 951 is legislation that would deliver a number of regulatory changes for which Duke Energy has been lobbying for years, many of them weakening the NCUC’s oversight authority over Duke’s spending. The bill would also require Duke to retire some of its uneconomic coal plants and require Duke to make investments in solar energy, but it would likely guarantee Duke’s ability to build new gas-burning power plants. 

Duke has been the driving force for the legislation in private stakeholder meetings with some legislators for months, and has touted the Public Staff’s analysis as an independent seal of approval that the bill would not lead to dramatic rate increases.

But emails between the Public Staff and Duke Energy employees, obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute through a public records request, showed that the Public Staff’s analysis was based on models originally created and run by Duke. In one instance, Duke ran an analysis for a “public staff scenario,” and in another Duke expected some “post-processing” updates to be made to its model. Duke then asked Public Staff for an advance copy of the “post-processing” and Public Staff agreed to the request, pending approval from legislative staff.

Other stakeholders and interested parties, such as environmental advocates and manufacturing representatives, were not present for conversations between Duke and the Public Staff, nor were they allowed to submit their own data for consideration, according to the records provided to EPI by the Public Staff. 

Duke Energy has leaned on the Public Staff’s analysis after publication to push back against concerns that HB 951 would raise rates, citing to WRAL, “the nonpartisan Public Staff’s analysis that the legislature’s ‘all of the above strategy’ will achieve carbon reductions of 64% while keeping bill impacts to an estimated $3.50 more per month by 2030.” 

Manufacturing interests, consumer advocates and environmentalists have disputed the Public Staff’s analysis, saying that the bill could increase bills by as much as 50% over a ten year period, largely due to factors not studied by the Public Staff’s analysis.

The bill was voted out of the House Energy and Public Utilities Committee on July 13, 2021 and is expected to face debate and a potential vote by the full North Carolina House of Representatives later today.

In a statement earlier this morning, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s spokesperson said, “The House Republican legislation as currently written weakens the Utility Commission’s ability to prevent unfair, higher rates on consumers in the short run. And in the long run, this bill falls short on clean energy, which will create jobs and contain costs. The Governor encourages legislators to oppose this bill unless important changes are made to fix these significant problems.”

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Posted by Daniel Tait

Daniel Tait is a Research and Communication Manager for the Energy and Policy Institute.