Power play: Power assets legislation speeds through chambers

Published 7:25 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The N.C. House unanimously approved a bill (in third reading) that, 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.

Gov. Pat McCrory could sign the legislation into law today.

The third-reading vote came Wednesday, with the bill receiving the bipartisan support it was expected to generate. The vote was 118-0. The bill came out of the House Finance Committee (before the vote) earlier this week with a favorable report.

Last week, the N.C. Senate approved Senate Bill 305 on its third reading. The two bills, though modified since being introduced, are identical.

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. The bills — House Bill 265 and Senate Bill 305 — were introduced in the House and Senate.

The $1.2 billion agreement would allow Duke Energy Progress to buy stakes in power-generation facilities now owned, in part, by the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency, which includes 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. The N.C. Utilities Commission and federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission will need to approve the agreement.

The 32 NCEMPA members and the Greenville Utilities Commission will need to vote in favor of the sale, within 90 days after legislation is passed. The cities face refinancing NCEMPA’s remaining $600 million total debt, and electric rate changes could come this fall, if not sooner, for power customers of the 32 members, according to several sources.

Doug Mercer, a Washington City Council member who regularly attends NCEMPA meetings, said all 32 members will have to approve the agreement for it to take effect and sign related documents and contracts related to future wholesale power purchases by the 32 members. If one rejects the agreement, the deal is off, he said.

“That goal right now is to get that done by the end of July. That’s being optimistic, I think. … Once all that is done and the bonds are sold, then we’re in a position that the power agency can reduce its rates. Once the power agency reduces its rate, then the city will reduce its rate. I’m hoping that we’ll see 10 percent, plus or minus,” Mercer said.

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.



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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