Wilson Energy marks $13M in utility bill savings

By Brie Handgraaf

Times Staff Writer
Posted 7/5/16

Wilson Energy customers have saved almost $13 million collectively in the 10 months since rates were reduced nearly 18 percent for residential customers as a result of the sale of assets to Duke Energy Progress.

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Wilson Energy marks $13M in utility bill savings

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Wilson Energy customers have saved almost $13 million collectively in the 10 months since rates were reduced nearly 18 percent for residential customers as a result of the sale of assets to Duke Energy Progress.

“I am just proud of Wilson and pleased to do my part with the legislative delegation on their behalf,” said state Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash. “I don’t live there, so I’m not with the constituents on a daily basis as I am in Rocky Mount, but I’m hoping this savings is a big help across the community, particularly with the citizens who need the most help.”

Before Bryant headed to the General Assembly, she was a city councilwoman in Rocky Mount and served as a commissioner with the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency, where she worked to reduce utility costs in Wilson, Rocky Mount and the other 30 member cities. In recent years, she and Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, sponsored legislation to pave the way for the asset sale to Duke.

The $1.2 billion deal switched ownership of various power facilities to Duke and reduced power agency debt by 70 percent. Wilson City Manager Grant Goings said Wilson Energy customers were previously paying about $0.035 per kilowatt-hour toward debt associated with plant construction, but said that debt payment was reduced to $0.0069 per kWh after the sale toward the amount of debt still outstanding.

“We had been working for years to find a solution to our wholesale rate problem, so once we had the opportunity, we wanted to pass along the greatest benefit possible to our customers,” Goings said. “We ran calculations to determine the full savings for residential customers due to the asset sale.”

Wilson was in the minority of public power cities that passed along the entire savings directly to the customers, but Goings said it was important to officials to ensure customers saw a difference in their bills. While Wilson rates are not even with Duke, officials say the gap between the rates is closing. For customers who use an average of 1,000 kWh a month, the rate for those in Duke’s territory, the utility charge would be $116.70 compared to $108.87 for Wilson Energy customers. Goings added that customers who participate in the Beat the Peak program have credits to their bills that put Duke’s rate at 1.95 percent below Wilson customers.

“Our current rates are really competitive with Duke’s as far as the residential and the commercial side of it,” said Wilson City Councilman Donald Evans, who serves as the secretary for the NCEMPA Board of Commissioners. “We’re not quite even yet, but in the near future, I think we will be.”

Evans said he’s been an advocate for Wilson to get out of the energy generation business from the start, which he and Bryant acknowledged leaves public power cities with less volatility to the rates related to the maintenance of the plants.

“We may still be vulnerable as wholesale customers of Duke, but they have the front-line risk for managing changes relative to maintenance and regulations,” Bryant said.

Allyson Moye with Womble Real Estate Co. said she’s seen her bill drop since the rates were reduced, but added she changed to a tankless water heater around the same time. She said prospective homebuyers and renters have always requested utility history for potential residences and that hasn’t changed in recent months, adding she doesn’t think the bill is critical in real estate decisions.

“A utility bill, like other things, is dependent upon living habits,” she said. “People will call about a house they are interested in and get the average summer bill and average winter bill, but they’ve got to keep in mind that those averages are not universal.”

Bryant emphasized that while the Duke deal has an impact on bills, it is not “the magic bullet to solve every problem related to utility costs.”

“There is a lot more we can do on the demand side,” she said. “We have to be ever-vigilant of energy efficiency while making sure the infrastructure side is being cost-effective.”

Evans and Goings said they’ve heard from customers who’ve seen $50 or $60 difference to their monthly bills since the sale.

“Keeping tens of millions of dollars in the local economy benefits everyone,” Goings concluded. “It is good for business, industry, retail and the overall economy.”

Wilson Energy has an online energy audit available at http://tinyurl.com/z8zejjj and customers can schedule a free audit by a professional by calling 252-399-2415.

bhandgraaf@wilsontimes.com | 265-7821