Local News

Anticipation of lower power bills lights up smiles across eastern NC

Posted April 2, 2015 5:33 p.m. EDT
Updated April 2, 2015 6:55 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law Thursday legislation that officials predict could lower power bills in 32 eastern North Carolina cities and towns by 10 to 15 percent.

In the 1980s, the cities and towns banded together as the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency to buy stakes in power plants for $2.5 billion. They believed at the time that the deal would provide them with cheap, plentiful and reliable power, but the debt they took on ended up spiking local power bills as much as 30 to 50 percent above surrounding areas.

NCEMPA agreed last summer to sell its ownership in the power plants to Duke Energy for $1.2 billion, but that would still leave the cities and towns $600 million in debt from the original deal. So, state lawmakers came up with a plan that allows NCEMPA to issue new bonds to refinance the debt at much lower interest rates, passing the savings on to customers.

McCrory met with applause when he signed the bill at the customer service office of Wilson Energy. Customers in Wilson said they are eager to see cuts in their bills.

"It costs me an arm and a leg – and somebody else's body parts, too. It's a lot," said Shannon Taylor, an unemployed mother of three. "If I ddin’t use any heat, my bill was still like $600 or $700. That’s like triple my rent."

Retiree Gary Nevins, 72, pays $316 a month for electricity in his 1,000-square-foot apartment.

"Do I stay warm or eat?" Nevins said of the dilemma he often faced. "That's a big choice."

Eddie Hopkins, a veteran on disability, said his March bill was $849.

"Honestly, who uses that much electricity in a month’s time?" Hopkins asked. "All of us are not making the same mistakes. All of us are not intentionally running our light bills up."

Lawmakers have predicted savings for NCEMPA's 270,000 customers – Apex, Clayton, Smithfield and Wake Forest also are part of the cooperative – would drop by at least 10 percent in the coming months, which should also help the cities and towns attract new business and jobs.

Dathan Shows, chief operating officer of Wilson Electric, was more circumspect Thursday about the savings.

"We're not putting a number to that, but we know it will be significant and it will be very helpful," Shows said.