INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WDRB) -- An Indiana consumer watchdog has asked that state regulators deny Duke Energy’s rate hike request because the utility has not provided the necessary data to prove its case.
One of the expert witnesses for the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor blasted Duke Energy’s documentation in the case as the most inadequate and unorganized he had seen in 39 years in the industry.
The OUCC, a state-funded ratepayer advocate, told WDRB News in an email Thursday that it is asking state regulators to deny Duke Energy’s request.
The utility requested this summer that it be allowed by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to increase its electric rates by 17% for all customer groups over the next two years, with the bulk of the increase being planned for 2020. The IURC regulates utilities in Indiana.
Duke said that if approved, its request would boost electric bills of the “average residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month” by $24 per month, or about 80 cents per day. According to the OUCC, the average consumer currently pays about $72.10 per month, which means the rate hike would boost monthly bills by about 33% to $96.10.
Duke spokeswoman Angeline Protogere told WDRB via email Thursday that the utility has gained more than 100,000 customers since its last rate increase and has had to upgrade its grid to serve them.
"We’re also transitioning to cleaner power and making our energy grid more reliable to reduce power outages," she said. "And we’re giving customers more convenient options like the ability to monitor their energy usage and pay their bill with a credit or debit card.
"We didn’t take this step lightly," Protogere said, "and we have worked hard to keep our rates reasonable, and in fact our overall average electric rates are the lowest in the state today."
However, the OUCC said the utility has not provided the necessary data to make its case, and OUCC staff has not been able to determine whether the utility’s request is valid, an agency spokesman told WDRB News via email.
In testimony the OUCC filed with regulators on Oct. 30, Michael D. Eckert, the assistant director of the OUCC’s Electric Division, said that the agency is tasked with balancing the interest of ratepayers and utilities and wants “sound utilities that can provide quality services at reasonable prices.”
However, he said that Duke is asking that state regulators authorize the utility’s earnings level to be increased by nearly $400 million, and "At some point, it becomes crucial to review whether the scales have become imbalanced and weigh too heavily in the utility’s favor."
Glenn Watkins, president of Richmond, Virginia-based economics and financial consulting firm Technical Associates, told regulators that he has tried to analyze Duke’s rate filing but that it “has been extremely burdensome and time-consuming for me and my team … to locate critical information.”
For example, he said, to understand Duke’s revenue forecasts, Watkins’ firm had to engage in “considerable searching of hundreds of undocumented files” and finally found “revenue workpapers embedded in a spreadsheet that contained 51 separate tabs.
“However, these workpapers only contained hard-keyed total amounts such that there is no way to determine how they were developed or where they came from,” Watkins testified.
Watkins said that in his 39 years in the industry, he has been involved in more than 300 rate cases.
“I have not seen a rate filing that compares with the unsupported, inadequate, unorganized/undocumented nature of Duke's current filing in Indiana,” he said.
Protogere said Thursday that rate cases are legal proceedings, and therefore "it’s not surprising there are adversarial positions like this.
"We’ll be responding to every claim, and there will be public hearings before state utility regulators to hear from all sides," she said. "All the evidence for the case will be carefully considered and reviewed by the commission before a decision is made."
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