"What the attorney general is in fact doing here is seeking to obtain all the benefits to residential customers of the settlement reached with Public Staff but to slough off any burden that's associated with that settlement. It's a package," said Duke Energy's attorney, Kiran Mehta.
Since the utilities commission was created by law to balance several interests and set rates, its decisions are "by definition just and reasonable," Mahta said.
North Carolina's attorneys general have rarely challenged utility rate increases to the Supreme Court. The last time may have been 1988 involving another Duke rate case, said a spokeswoman for Cooper, who took office in 2001.
This case comes at a time that both Duke Energy and the utilities commission are under fire.
Cooper's office and the utilities commission are running separate investigations into whether Duke Energy misled regulators ahead of its takeover of Raleigh-based Progress Energy, which was finalized in July. Hours after the deal was concluded, Duke Energy's board ousted the CEO promised throughout the 18-month process of combining North Carolina's two Fortune 500 energy companies.
Duke Energy now has 7.1 million residential and business customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Florida.
The utilities commission was criticized for being too ready to accommodate the company's merger timetable and rushing through its duty to ensure the deal was in the state's best interest.
The electricity giant and its regulator are expected to have multiple rate cases in the coming years as Duke Energy seeks to update its power generation portfolio in "an extended period of extremely large investments," Duke CEO Jim Rogers said last year.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio.