Duke Energy says it plans to ask state regulators again for approval to increase customers' electric bills. This time it's to help pay for damage and repairs from major weather-related storms last year.

Company officials estimate recent storms – Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael and a winter storm that dropped more than foot of snow in some places – cost more than $700 million in North and South Carolina.

Most of that damage was in the Tar Heel state and the company spent months repairing power lines, providing extra crews and improving the power grid.

It's planning to ask the North Carolina Utilities Commission for a rate change within the next 12 months to help recover those costs.

What that will actually look like isn't clear, but consumer advocate groups say they're concerned because many customers are already saddled with rising power bills. Duke Energy spokeswoman Meredith Archie says the company is considering several options.

“We're looking at different ways to mitigate the rate increases for customers," says Archie. "For example, we are asking to spread these costs over a longer period of time than has been done in the past. In the past, the commission has spread the cost over five years. We're requesting to spread them over eight years.”

The North Carolina Utilities Commission would hold public hearings before it made a decision on any formal request from Duke Energy.

Last year, the commission rejected a rate hike request by Duke Energy Carolinas to help pay for costs associated with coal ash cleanup and fined the company for its handling of the waste. Despite the action, customers in Central and Western North Carolina saw a slight increase in their rates.

According to the Associated Press, Duke Energy Progress customers also saw a slight rate hike last year. That was on top of a nearly $8 monthly increase the average household began paying in March

*You can follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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