Duke Energy Progress purchase of Electrocities generating capacity could result in price decrease for utility customers

Duke Energy Progress nuclear coal-fired power plants Electricities purchase

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — People in eastern North Carolina may see lower electric bills as early as this fall if legislation filed in the House and Senate on Tuesday is approved quickly. The identical measures are related to last summer's announcement that Duke Energy Progress will purchase the generating capacity managed by Electricities, which is comprised of 32 towns and cities. The $1.2 billion agreement, which already has the approval of federal regulators but also needs the state's OK, could result in price breaks as early as next fall, said Republican Sen. Buck Newton, who lives in Wilson, one of the Electricities members.

The communities with 270,000 customers that make up the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency have been burdened with debt from investments in coal-fired and nuclear power plants since the late 1970s. The debt resulted in electric costs ranging from 20 to 50 percent higher than what other utility customers face. Serious efforts to work out a plan to sell the investment have gone back more than a decade.

The debt owed by the agency's member cities was $1.9 billion last July. The deal would mean the power agency's overall debt would fall by 70 percent. The legislation is needed so the agency can issue new bonds — about $600 million— to help pay off the entire deal. The measure also would require Duke Energy Progress to recover the transaction's costs over 20 to 30 years, which lawmakers say would help all of the utility's ratepayers.

The power agency invested in the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County, Brunswick nuclear power plant in Southport, and coal-fired Mayo and Roxboro plants above Durham near the Virginia border. The plants were owned by then-Carolina Power & Light Co., which ultimately became Duke Energy Progress. Now the agency is selling its shares in the plants to the utility.

The agreement also needs approval of the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

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