Snapshot: Edwards shows up to give Rocky Mount Utilities 7 awards, but while he was there citizens and at least one Councilman relate the high cost of electricity to Edwards.
From: Rocky Mount Telegram
ElectriCities officials honored Rocky Mount utilities workers Monday during the City Council meeting for “outstanding efforts” in delivering electricity to city customers. The recognition drew the ire of at least one community group that has in recent months protested utility rates and the city’s decades-old agreement with the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency.
ElectriCities CEO T. Graham Edwards said Rocky Mount is the only North Carolina city to be honored with all seven of the agency’s Public Power Awards. The awards are to recognize local utility departments for achievements in customer service, economic development, energy efficiency and other distribution initiatives.
The recognition frustrated Cynthia Jahi, who attended the public meeting to speak out about local utility costs and to protest the awards. Jahi confronted Rocky Mount Utilities Director Richard Worsinger outside council chambers following the meeting.
“I refuse to accept the fact that you say this (agreement with ElectrCities) can’t be changed,” Jahi said, stepping toward Worsinger and pointing in his face. “I’m saying to you, if we put our brains together to figure out how to get out of this — if we roll up our sleeves and get out a pen and calculator — we can solve anything.”
Although Edwards attended the meeting for the purpose of delivering the awards — which are a testament to city employees, he said, not a statement about utility rates — the top ElectriCities official spent several minutes explaining the historic relationship between the city and his agency.
Protest groups like Jahi’s have lobbied for city leaders and members of the utilities agency to pay down debt owed for the construction of power plants and to cut the agency’s budget to reduce rates. Edwards, however, said there is little if anything to be done to dramatically lower the wholesale cost of electricity.
“There is nothing I can do over the short term to bring that cost down because that debt is there, and it is what it is,” Edwards said. “What we need to do is work with the city to help customers work on the other side of the equation by reducing usage through weatherization and by other means.”
George Fisher of the Eastern North Carolina Utility Forum, another local utilities advocacy group, challenged Edwards’ logic, saying the more people reduce demand for power, the higher the rates will go.
“Then what?” Fisher said.
Worsinger defended the city utilities department, accusing Jahi and Fisher of exploiting Edwards appearance and ignoring the positive work done by the city staff.
“That was not the purpose of today’s meeting,” Worsinger said, seeming to grow aggravated with Jahi’s comments. “You can’t just focus on the negative. I’m pleased the city has been recognized for our efforts every day to deliver electricity to our customers.”
Worsinger noted the staff’s work to maintain power after multiple missed payments and the city’s offer of free energy audits to maximize efficiency.
Councilman Reuben Blackwell thanked Edwards for going off script and delivering a brief history lesson on the ElectriCities agreement, and he asked Edwards to return to the city with more details on how individuals can lower rates.
“I know this isn’t why you came here tonight,” Blackwell said, “but this is Rocky Mount, so you I’m sure you knew this discussion would come up.”