I hate to say it because I think we need to talk about the price of electricity in eastern North Carolina. We need to understand the hardships of having to face high light bills month after month with limited incomes, but everything that was said in Smithfield has been said 100 times before. From where I sit, this was an opportunity to get some ink during an election cycle.
Over the years, I’ve learned you can’t talk light bills without talking about jobs! Economic growth and development. Progress spreads their debt over 4 million customers, while we spread our debt over 350,000 customers. Do the math.
SMITHFIELD — About a dozen Eastern North Carolina mayors and city administrators gathered Thursday to find some way to challenge ElectriCities and find some relief for citizens dealing with exorbitantly high electric bills.
“We’ve got to have some relief, somewhere,” Hookerton Mayor Bobby Taylor told his fellow municipal leaders, who gathered around a table in the banquet room of the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center for a three-hour meeting Thursday morning.
Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy was among the group — he worked with Elizabeth City Mayor Roger McLean and Smithfield Mayor Daniel Evans to put the meeting together.
“All these mayors share that same problem,” Murphy said of high electric rates for businesses and residents. “It isn’t specific to Kinston, and we all want to be part of the solution; it’s just not an easy one.”
The assembled mayors noted that, while ElectriCities towns have had to raise their rates in the past two years as wholesale costs have skyrocketed, private utilities, such as Progress Energy, are petitioning to lower their rates — rates that are already about 30 percent less than ElectriCities’.
“If I lived a mile from where I live (now), my electric rate would be half as much as what it is,” said Pikeville Mayor Johnny Weaver.
The assembled mayors said those rates keep more residents and businesses from settling in their towns.
“I don’t know that we can survive another 16 years of trying to compete with other communities and other states,” Murphy said.
ElectriCities is burdened with a multi-billion dollar debt taken on decades ago when the communities in the organization agreed to purchase shares of the power plants, a debt that is not scheduled to be paid off until 2026.
Each town bears a portion of that debt, and there is currently no way for a municipality to get out of the association without paying off its portion. That debt service increased the cost of a typical bill by about 30 percent, according to ElectriCities officials.
“Common sense would tell you no one would turn their back on an entire region, but look at our region,” Archie Jennings, mayor of Washington, N.C. said. “We had tobacco and textiles, and that was going to pay off the debt, but we don’t have that any more.”
It was the second of three planned organizational meetings. Murphy, Evans and a few others gathered in Elizabeth City during May at the invitation of McLean, and a third meeting is scheduled in Kinston for this fall.
Murphy and his fellow mayors plan to invite representatives of the N.C. Attorney General’s Office and ElectriCities to the Kinston meeting, plus more mayors and town council members.
The group also wants to reach out to legislators in Raleigh and Washington, D.C. and seek their assistance.
McLean wanted the mayors to “come together in one voice and let political people know, we can vote you in and we can vote you out.”
Evans, McLean and Murphy have been working for some months on ways to unite mayors and other elected officials in public power towns and cities that fall under the umbrella of ElectriCities.
“That goal, to me, is to make sure we have the best quality of life for our citizens,” Evans said.
ElectriCities is a non-profit corporation created by the state to manage the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency — which provides power to more than 30 cities in the eastern part of the state.
ElectriCities also manages the Municipal Power Agency 1, which supports cities and towns in Western North Carolina. The two municipal agencies jointly own five nuclear and coal-fired power plants in North Carolina with private utilities Duke Energy and Progress Energy.