Legislation approved: Bill passes Senate on its second reading by 47-1 vote in Chamber

Published 7:32 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The N.C. Senate approved a revised Senate Bill 305 (on second reading) during its session Wednesday afternoon.

The vote was 47-1, with Republican John M. Alexander Jr. of Wake County casting the lone negative vote. The third reading of the bill is scheduled for today, according to the Senate calendar.

The bill, if it becomes law, would allow Washington, Belhaven and other eastern North Carolina cities and towns to proceed with a sales agreement that should reduce electricity rates and spur economic development and job growth across the region.

Several senators spoke in support of the bill, including one of its primary sponsors, E.S. “Buck” Newton of Wilson.

Newton, speaking during the chamber’s afternoon session, said the bill becoming law would “help working families” in eastern North Carolina with “pocketbook issues.” He continued: “It (the debt) has been a backbreaker to so many working families.”

Other senators said passage of the bill opens the door further for economic development in the region and ease financial burdens on many eastern North Carolina residents.

State Rep. Paul Tine, a Dare County resident who represents the 6th District in the state House, and state Sen. Bill Cook, who represents the 1st District in the state Senate, are among a bipartisan coalition that introduced the legislation in the General Assembly on St. Patrick’s Day. Identical bills — House Bill 265 and Senate Bill 305 — were introduced in the House and Senate.

The agreement would permit Duke Energy Progress to buy stakes in power-generation facilities now owned, in part, by the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency, which comprises 32 cities and towns in eastern North Carolina. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the agreement, however, approval by the General Assembly is needed for the agreement to take effect. The commission approved the agreement in December 2014.

For many years, NCEMPA customers have paid as much as 35 percent more than power customers in other parts of the state for electricity, a result of the power agency carrying nearly $2 billion in debt for around 33 years. In 2010, the movement to do something about that debt took on new life when several NCEMPA members explored withdrawing from NCEMPA. They faced several contractual and fiscal challenges if they did so.

In Washington’s case, about 70 percent of the city’s wholesale electric bill goes toward retiring the city’s share of that debt, according to city officials.

The original Senate Bill 305 was modified by a committee Tuesday, which then reported favorably on it to the entire Senate.

The House bill was referred March 18 to the Committee on Public Utilities. If it received a favorable report there, it would be sent to the House Finance Committee.




About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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