WCU to pass on electric rate hike

Those who buy their power from Western Carolina University have historically enjoyed cheaper electric bills than their neighbors, but that is soon to change.

WCU buys electricity at wholesale rates from Duke Energy and resells it to customers on its grid, which extends in a roughly one-mile radius around the university serving 2,700 customers.

WCU qualifies as the cheapest utility company in the state, according to Chuck Wooten, vice chancellor for administration and finance.

But Duke is jacking up the cost of wholesale power it sells to WCU, and WCU will have to hike its rates in return, said Wooten. Duke plans to increase the cost of power to WCU by 48 percent, imposed incrementally over the next three years.

Wooten said WCU hasn’t seen a rate increase from Duke in years.

“In essence they have sheltered us from the rate increases other wholesale customers have been paying,” Wooten said. “It was to our advantage but now we are having to catch up.”

WCU is in the midst of contract negotiations with Duke energy to set the rates for the next 20 years. Once a baseline for the wholesale rate for is set, Duke will adjust the rate annually only when necessary to compensate for the rise and fall of fuel costs —known as a “true up.”

Wooten said the University looked at buying blocks of wholesale power from another utility but couldn’t find a better option. WCU plans to raise rates by 12 to 15 percent pending approval from the N.C. Utility Commission.

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