Local News

Rocky Mount residents struggle with high electric bills

Posted March 17, 2011 9:19 p.m. EDT
Updated October 23, 2011 1:27 p.m. EDT

Almost 200 Rocky Mount residents voiced their frustration with high utility bills at a public forum on Thursday night.

Curtis and Lachunga Wilson said they have seen their power bill double to more than $500 a month.

"We manage and find a way to pay this utility bill, but it's breathtaking," Lachunga Wilson said. 

Residents like the Wilsons might not see relief from high power bills anytime soon.

Rocky Mount is one of 32 municipalities that belong to ElectriCities. In the early 1980s, that consortium agreed to help pay for power plants, such as Shearon Harris in Wake County, in exchange for using electricity generated by the plants.

The move left the cities and towns with $2.4 billion in debt as the cost of building nuclear plants skyrocketed. Customers of the local utilities have been slowly paying off the debt through higher electric bills.

Rocky Mount’s portion of that contract is $400 million, which amounts to a $5 to $7 million monthly bill. The cost of covering the debt is then passed on to consumers.

The debt will remain on the municipalities' books until 2026, leaving them little flexibility over electric rates until then. Some officials, though, say they plan to lobby state regulators and lawmakers to include debt relief as a condition of approving the $26 billion merger between Raleigh-based Progress Energy and Charlotte-based Duke Energy.

Graham Edwards, a spokesman for ElectriCities, said the utility has tried to keep the cost down by not raising rates the past couple years.

“What I would encourage consumers to do is look at their consumption, understand how they can use energy more efficiently and more effectively,” he said.

Residents, including the Wilson family, said they face more tough choices in the future.

“Sometimes you don’t know whether to pay the utility bill or buy groceries to feed your family,” Lachunga Wilson said.