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NC regulators approve Duke Energy rate hike

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina regulators have approved a rate increase of 4.5 percent for Duke Energy Carolinas.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission approved the increase Tuesday.

The rate hike increases to an overall average of 5.1 percent after two years. Regulators say the typical residential electric bill would go up about $7.60 a month in 2015, to a monthly average of $110.

The increase is the company's third since 2009.

Duke Energy Carolinas serves nearly 2 million customers in North Carolina.

Duke Energy Carolinas President Paul Newton says the higher rates are needed to modernize its equipment to meet environmental regulations.

Some of the money will be used to retire and replace old plants Those includes a new coal-powered unit near Cliffside and a natural gas fueled plant in Eden.

The North Carolina Attorney General's Office could appeal the increase.

Attorney General Roy Cooper appealed Duke Energy Carolina's 2011 rate increase and the North Carolina Supreme Court sent the case back to the utilities commission. The court said the commission did not fully assess the impact of Duke's Energy Carolinas' profit margin on low-income customers.

Cooper's staff said during hearings in July on the latest request that it would give the Charlotte-based utility too high a profit margin.

The increase gives the company an additional $205 million. It had initially requested $446 million.

Tuesday's order states that the utility cannot seek another rate increase for two years. Duke Energy Carolinas also will donate $10 million in shareholder money to agencies that help low-income customers with their energy bills.