Duke Energy wants to raise rates - partially for new headquarters

GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Duke Energy says its proposed rate hike would help the company recover costs from supplying reliable electricity, but FOX Carolina Investigates has uncovered another costly item the increase would help fund.

The proposed increase would cost an extra $17 per month for the average customer, amounting to an additional $240 million in revenue for the company.

According to documents filed with the Public Service Commission (PSC), part of the increase in revenue would also pay for the company’s new headquarters in Uptown Charlotte: Duke Energy Plaza.

The skyscraper is 40-floors tall and built to hold 4,000 employees, but state officials say it’s mostly empty.

By looking at how many employees swiped their badge on their way in to work at the new tower, officials with the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) determined during the first three months of 2024 the highest number of employees in the building at one time was just under 1,200.

According to company data, occupancy never rose above 48% and two floors in the building are still empty.

In a report to the PSC, which is the governing body tasked with voting for or against Duke’s proposed rate increase, ORS said customers shouldn’t have to pay “100% for an asset that is not being fully used by the company.”

ORS staff recommended the PSC make numerous deductions from Duke’s $240 million request, including deducting $3.4 million for the empty floors.

“It is not equitable or reasonable to require [Duke’s] customers to pay for new office space that sits unoccupied for over 50% of the time,” the ORS report said.

Duke representatives have filed documents pushing back on the ORS’s analysis, saying they are still phasing employees into the new building and their flexible policy means staff doesn’t have to go to the office every day.

One document said Duke Energy Plaza also allowed the company to save money by consolidating workspaces and reducing their real estate footprint in the Carolinas by 1-million square feet.

“They do not even acknowledge that the construction of the Duke Energy Plaza is part of a broader effort to optimize our real estate footprint across the Carolinas, which included significant real estate investments in South Carolina, such as the ongoing expansion of our Columbia office and the construction of our Spartanburg Operations Center, one of our largest in the State,” said Mike Callahan, president of Duke Energy’s utility operations in South Carolina.

A Duke press release from 2021 also estimated the new headquarters would ultimately save customers $85 million to $90 million.

The PSC will hear arguments from both sides about the rate increase later this month.