Agency’s power deal hits snag

LAURINBURG — Laurinburg’s utility customers will have to wait a little longer for a decrease in electrical bills as a $1.2 billion deal between the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency and Duke Energy Progress is stalled.

According to ElectriCities, the managing arm of the power agency, “one of the stars has not aligned” to close the deal in time for an original June 30 deadline. Officials are now hoping to close the deal July 31.

“As reported over the past few months, both NCEMPA and Duke Energy Progress officials are working diligently to close the $1.2 billion asset sale transaction as quickly as possible,” Graham Edwards, CEO of ElectriCities, said in a statement. “The most ambitious timeline estimates were to close on June 30, 2015. A few regulatory approvals remain outstanding, requiring the closing date to be pushed later into July.”

Duke Energy is buying assets held by the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency, a cooperative of 32 towns and cities and about 270,000 customers. These customers have been burdened with debt from investments in coal-fired and nuclear power plants since the late 1970s, and that debt has resulted in electric costs that range 20 to 50 percent higher than what other utility customers face. The deal is expected to cover a large portion of the power agency’s debt, which has driven up wholesale utility prices and in turn local rates.

The delay won’t interfere with any meetings or agreements locally, but in the meantime, the 32 municipalities that are members of the power agency will have to continue to pay higher wholesale rates.

Edwards called the deal “complex,” with “many layers of state and federal approvals” needed. The deal moved quickly through North Carolina’s General Assembly before getting Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature.

“FERC’s approval of Duke Energy Progress’ filing without conditions came more than six months ahead of our original time frame. The North Carolina General Assembly’s swift legislation in less than three weeks also cleared a major hurdle. We remain optimistic that the transaction will close soon and the benefits will flow to eastern North Carolina,” Edwards said in the statement.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission still needs to approve Duke Energy’s Cost Recovery Rider Rules and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs to approve the transfer of the operating licenses currently held by municipalities to Duke Energy Progress.

The Utilities Commission is expected to hold public hearings.

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