RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Critics of a rate increase for Progress Energy customers are questioning deals that would give the utility's largest customers breaks on the costs.
The questions came Monday before the North Carolina Utilities Commission in Raleigh, which is considering a 7.3 percent rate increase for the company's residential customers. That would be nearly $8 per month for the typical residential customer.
Progress promised its industrial customers millions of dollars in price breaks in exchange for their support of its $32 billion deal with Duke Energy Corp.
Duke and Progress considered the deals trade secrets that would have been kept from the public. But the commission opened its files last year following a request from the news media and a Durham advocacy group NC WARN.
Lawyers for commercial businesses, the U.S. Defense Department, the North Carolina League of Municipalities and the North Carolina Public Staff challenged Duke and Progress officials about the price breaks for nearly 4,000 industrial customers. Other Progress customers would make up the difference for the reduced rates for industry.
"Do you gentlemen think it's fair for the Food Lion to subsidize a rate discount to the bakery across the street?" asked Alan Jenkins, an attorney for Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Macy's and others who would not get the break. "Do you care more about the bakery across the street than the bakery within the Food Lion?"
Two of Duke's top executives, Lloyd Yates, executive vice president for regulated utilities, and Paul Newton, president of Duke Energy North Carolina, defended the breaks for big customers.
The rate breaks would create jobs and help low-income workers become middle class, the men said.
The hearings on the increase could last all week. A decision on the increase request is expected this summer.