Rate victory: McCrory signs NCEMPA legislation

Published 7:38 pm Thursday, April 2, 2015

Less than 24 hours after the N.C. General Assembly ratified legislation that should help lower electric rates for many eastern North Carolina residents, Gov. Pat McCrory signed the legislation into law.

McCrory signed the legislation Thursday morning in Wilson, one of the 32 N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency members that will benefit from the sales agreement the legislation concerns. The agreement allows 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.

“This purchase provides a private sector, market-driven solution to a major economic development obstacle we faced in eastern North Carolina,” McCrory said. “The lower electric rates this purchase should produce will save consumers money and make the region more attractive to job creators who want to take advantage of the region’s talented workforce and special quality of life.”

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 new law allows NCEMPA members to issue bonds to refinance approximately $480 million of debt after this purchase is complete. It also allows NCEMPA power agencies to enter into purchase power agreements to replace the electricity previously provided by the generation assets they are selling.

If all NCEMPA members approve the agreement and it is implemented, electric rates for the members’ power customers are expected to decline, up to 20 percent in some cases. Doug Mercer, a Washington City Council member who regularly attends NCEMPA meetings, said earlier this week he hopes the agreement will result in Washington’s power customers seeing their electric rates decrease by about 10 percent.

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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