Power Struggle Part 3: ElectriCities Rates Exceed The National Average, Legislation Targets The Power Agency

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If you're a customer of one of the 32 municipalities that make up the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency managed by ElectriCities, you pay more than Progress or Duke customers for the exact same thing.

The rates the nearly 270,000 ElectriCities customers pay averages 13.6 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to 9.6 cents for Progress, 8.2 cents for Duke, and 11.1 cents for the non-profit Tideland Electric Membership Corporation, which refunded $682,000 to its 22,000 customers last year. Jones/Onslow EMC, with a rate of 10 cents, did the same thing, returning three million dollars in credits or refunds to customers. In fact, the rates ElectriCities customers pay are even higher than the national average of 11.3 cents per kilowatt hour.

Studying the rates ElectriCities members pay is the aim of NC House Bill 559. It calls for a commission to examine rates, services, and any issues that affect rates. The commission also would have the power to subpoena witnesses.

Asked about H.B 559, ElectriCities CEO Graham Edwards said, "Ya know the legislature can study rates in any way, shape or form they like. And we will be there to help them and support them anyway we can."

If the bill passes, one thing the commission will learn is that the 32 municipalities set their own rates, which is why they can vary from town to town. They'll also discover those municipalities can transfer money from their electric fund to their general fund to cover expenses that are not related to the operation of electric services. A separate bill, House Bill 117, would put an end to that practice.

New Bern Mayor Lee Bettis says New Bern and other towns that currently transfer money from the electric fund to the general fund need to stop, but says ending it this summer, as the bill suggests, would result in severe tax increases.

Another bill, House Bill 457, would bring the ElectriCities municipalities under the oversight of the North Carolina Utilities Commission. Right now, as we reported last week, there is no independent oversight.

ElectriCities opposes H.B bill 457, saying "It won't lower rates, but will instead increase a city's costs to operate its electric system, which would contribute to even higher bills."

The legislation in Raleigh is in addition to efforts we have reported on by Betttis to try and intervene in the Progress/Duke merger to find some relief.