What Could the General Assembly Do For Ratepayers? And How Much Is Political Capital Worth? Well, Here’s My Plan…at long last!

Quote: “To me, this is an honest and brokered approach that is not only doable, but morally correct and ethical.”

Having read the Elizabeth City advance I started thinking it’s time for me to put up or shut up. Well, below is a plan I think the City of Rocky Mount (through the guidance of the Rocky Mount City Council) could deal with and help the most needy of us as it relates to our high cost of utilities.

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Is relief in sight? Well, according to Bill Owens probably not. But, don’t be too sure of that. After A.B Swindell finished a campaign swing through Nash county. He stopped on the David Perkins show about a month ago and said he’d do everything he can to help the rate payers of eastern North Carolina.

Was that just campaign talk? Who knows, but at least he has acknowledged the pain that most ElectriCities customers face. From month to month, it’s hard to pay your light bill and put food in your mouth with the same paycheck.  In reality, Swindell may, at best, be able to toss eastern North Carolina some “utility” change. But, if you’re on a fixed income, you need real dollars.  Decreasing the rate by $100/year really isn’t that much help. Especially if you’re going to have to pay it back on the flip side.  The real issue is does any Legislator want to spend political capital on what most politicians think is an impossibility.

The General Assembly is scratching for every dollar it can find, and it’s certainly becoming hard for anyone in the Legislator to come to the ratepayers rescue. Medicaid is out the roof, sales tax is in the gutter.  What more can a Tarheel stand?

The pitiful side to all of the budget cuts and fly thoughts will be the fate of the 2011 fiscal year.  The NCGA is making a bitter pill they will surely have to swallow next year.

Graham Edwards, CEO of Electricities said only days ago at the NCEMPA meeting that Cap & Trade will certainly come down the pike in one form or another in 2011.  It’s within reason, as some have calculated, that rates will jump at the wholesale level.  This will leave ratepayers owning more and more per kilowatt hour. 

Ratepayers need to remember that we’re (NCEMPA customers) paying, on average, around 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour on the wholesale . That’s just about 2.5 cents under what Progress Energy’s retail rate is currently.  As Edwards has said many many times: Progress has 4 million customers while we (NCEMPA) have only about 350,000 customers.  When you do the math, the NCEMPA debt is paid by a precious few.

Having said all of this you could conclude that the situation is hopeless.  Well, it’s not. There are some thing that each and every city council can do to help the most needy of us control our utility bills.

Yes, weatherization and energy audits are certainly keys to getting light bills under control. But, there are other ways to deal with the high cost.

First, I would look at the Federal poverty levels as it relates to Rocky Mount. I would suggest having a tiered electrical rate for Rocky Mount based on those Federal poverty guidelines. For example, the Federal Poverty Guidelines are as follows:

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I would suggest that the City use this as a way to calculate a tiered utility rate. If a ratepayer falls within the scope of the FPG, that ratepayer would pay the wholesale rate for electricity. Not, the retail rate. The City isn’t losing money because they are still being paid at cost, and the ratepayer isn’t having to pay a premium that they surely can’t afford. 

A bolder step for the Council would be to adjust up to  150% of the FPG to ensure no one falls through the cracks. These figures could also be tethered as a percentage below the utility retail rate to ensure no elderly or single parent households are literally left out in the cold.  Therefore, a person in a single person household could make on a fixed income $15,000 per year and still be able to pay the Rocky Mount wholesale rate.

To me, this is an honest and brokered approach that is not only doable, but morally correct and ethical.  Elderly people on fixed incomes should not have to make choices of going  without food or medicine to pay a utility bill.  Children in Rocky Mount should not have to go without the basic necessities because of these high light bills.   A decision, resulting in these high light bills, made some 40 years before these small children were even born.

Again, this isn’t a end all solution to the utility problem. But, at least it is something, a start in the right direction, what will save the most needy of ratepayers precious dollars.  A tiered approach relevant to the wholesale rate can most surely take some of the sting out, for our citizen who face poverty in Rocky Mount.

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About George Fisher

George is a freelance writer, an author and a Democratic political consultant. He has worked as Deputy Communications Director for a Senatorial campaign and Campaign Manager for several NC House races and one congressional race. He previously worked as a news producer for a local television station.
This entry was posted in Cap & Trade Bill, Connections on WNCR, ElectriCities, Graham Edwards, How to Lower Your Light Bill and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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