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A deal between two North Carolina electricity providers could finally give some Eastern North Carolina residents relief from monthly electricity bills that rank among highest in the state.

The N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency and Duke Energy announced Monday a plan for Duke to buy $1.2 billion worth of assets held by the municipal power group, which is managed by the Raleigh-based Electricities group.

The municipal power group that serves 32 Eastern North Carolina communities has long been saddled with high levels of debt taken on when the cities bought into nuclear and coal-power plant projects decades ago and costs soared during construction. That led to high levels of debt with the costs passed on to consumers through higher electricity rates.

The N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency and Duke Energy deal, if given final approval, would lower the debt owed by the towns from $1.9 billion to $480 million, according to a news release from the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency.

The drop in electricity costs for consumers would still vary by community, depending on how much outstanding debt is still owed by each community.

“When we entered these negotiations, we knew it wasn’t feasible to expect to completely eliminate the debt by selling our assets. But this agreement has the potential to reduce our current debt by more than 70 percent,” ElectriCities CEO Graham Edwards said, in a written statement “That’s a significant decrease in our costs and the savings would be directly passed along to NCEMPA members.

Electricities

Towns in the 32-city Electricities network include Lumberton, Kinston, Selma, Smithfield, Apex, Elizabeth City, Wilson, New Bern, Washington, Tarboro and Edenton.

Many of the communities that depend on Electriticies for electricity also have stagnant economies, with high levels of impoverished residents.

As part of the plan, Duke Energy would buy the municipal power group’s stakes in four power plants – the Brunswick (County) Nuclear Plants, the Mayo and Roxboro plants in Person County and the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant in Wake County, according to the press releases form the companies.

The move would still need approval from state and federal energy regulators.

Do you live in one of the communities affected by this? We’d like to hear from you about how high your electricity bills are now and what you think of today’s news.

Leave a comment below, or you reach reporter Sarah Ovaska at (919) 861-1463 or sarah@ncpolicywatch.com.

Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenberg) sent a letter on Monday to Gov. Pat McCrory, asking him to veto legislation sent to him last week by the General Assembly that allows private, for-profit charter school operators to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds. 

“While this bill requires that charter schools disclose the salaries of direct employees, including teachers, it creates a dangerous loophole that would allow Charter School Management Companies to take advantage of taxpayer funds by hiding payments to the very people and entities for which disclosure is most necessary,” Cotham wrote to McCrory.

Governor McCrory has previously said he would veto any legislation that shielded charter school salaries’ from the public eye.

“I still share my previous concerns with transparency for charter schools, not just for teachers, but for board members and all employees. Lawyers are currently reviewing the interpretations of this new law and I won’t take action on the legislation until we have a clear interpretation on transparency,” McCrory said in a statement last Friday.

Rep. Cotham delivered an impassioned plea to fellow House lawmakers last week to reject SB 793, ‘Charter School Modifications’. Not only did the bill suddenly contain a provision that shielded the salaries of charter school staff who are employed by the parent for-profit company of a school, it also jettisoned an earlier version of the bill that contained protections for LGBT students.

The additional provision to SB 793 comes following months of fighting between prominent Wilmington-based charter school operator, Baker A. Mitchell Jr., and local media outlets that have asked him to fully disclose the salaries of all employees associated with his charter schools—teachers as well as those who work for his for-profit education management organization (EMO), Roger Bacon Academy. Mitchell has refused to disclose his for-profit employees’ salaries.

In addition to operating four charter schools in eastern North Carolina, Mitchell is also deeply involved in charter school politics at the state level. He sits on the state’s Charter School Advisory Board, which approves and monitors new charter schools across North Carolina. 

Mitchell has also given thousands of dollars in campaign donations to Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Moore, Randolph), a key proponent of charter schools.

In her letter to McCrory, Rep. Cotham asked McCrory to keep his word about transparency.

“Now is not the time to play politics, to play word games, or to only listen to donors. Now is the time for ethical leadership and for unwavering commitment to the principles you earlier said you support. I call on you to keep your word and veto this bill.”

SmokeIn an allusion to the signal that’s seen in the Vatican when the leaders of the Catholic Church elect a new Pope, at least one news media report this morning is talking about “white smoke” being visible on Jones Street. The story accompanying the headline, of course, is that leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly signaled over the weekend that they have agreement on the framework of a state budget deal. Assuming it really comes to fruition, the agreement comes a full month into the 2015 fiscal year.

A closer look at those puffs of smoke, however, reveals them to bear a notably blue tinge — that is, the kind one typically see with an engine that’s leaking oil and about to blow. As Alexandra Sirota details in the post immediately below and Chris Fitzsimon highlights in this morning’s “Monday Numbers,” one important impetus for the agreement would appear to be the latest calculations of the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division staff that the income tax cuts enacted last year are harming state budget revenues even more than had been officially forecast – i.e. more along the lines of what the Budget and Tax Center has been predicting all along.

So, keep in mind a couple of things this week as lawmakers and the Governor are falling all over themselves to issue statements of  self-congratulations:

1) Notwithstanding their rosy claims, the engine driving state government — the tax system — remains cracked and badly in need of an overhaul.

2) The current proposed solution — rolling up the window and ignoring the smoke — will provide only a temporary solution at best.

House lawmakers approved legislation Friday that allows private, for-profit management companies that run charter schools to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.

The bill also fails to provide protections for LGBT students, even though an earlier version did.

While the bill, SB 793, or Charter School Modifications, clarifies that the salaries of charter school teachers and non-profit boards of directors are subject to public disclosure, employees of for-profit companies that are contracted to manage the operations of charter schools would not be subject to those rules.

In a prior version of the bill, language simply required charter schools to publicly disclose all employees’ salaries.

The change comes at a time when one prominent Wilmington-based charter school operator, Baker A. Mitchell Jr., has been fighting media requests for months that have asked him to fully disclose the salaries of all employees associated with his charter schools – teachers as well as those who work for his for-profit education management organization (EMO), Roger Bacon Academy.

Mitchell, who also sits on the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board that is tasked with approving and monitoring charter schools, operates four charter schools in southeastern North Carolina through his for-profit company.

Roger Bacon Academy has raked in millions of dollars in profits that consist of public funds since 1999 – and Mitchell himself has profited to the tune of at least $16 million in management fees over the past several years. Read More

Buried deep in a House technical corrections bill unveiled yesterday is a provision to allow staff of for-profit charter school management groups to serve on the boards of the public charters schools that contract with them.

The N.C. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the 55-page technical corrections bill today. The legislation would also have to gain approval in the Senate. (UPDATE: The House voted and passed the bill Friday, and it is now headed to the Senate.)

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Adademies

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Academy, Inc. (Photo by Sarah Ovaska)

The technical corrections bill unveiled Thursday is supposed to be way for lawmakers to tweak laws but it often becomes an under-the-radar way to push through controversial changes and “asks” from powerful lobbying groups.

The one-sentence addition to charter school rules would prohibit the State Board of Education from dictating who can and can’t sit on the board of the publicly-funded charter schools.

That issue popped up last year when the N.C. Department of Public Instruction told a politically-connected charter school operator he couldn’t sit on the board of the school he works for.

“The State Board of Education shall no impose any terms and conditions that restrict membership of the board of directors of the nonprofit corporation operating the charter school, but shall require the board of directors to adopt a conflict of interest policy,” the new language in the technical corrections bill states. (Click here to view the corrections bill, charter school language on page 39.)

Baker Mitchell, who founded Charter Day School in Brunswick County, owns an education management company called Roger Bacon Academy that is contracted to run four charter schools in the southeastern part of the state.  Last year, the State Board of Education told Mitchell that neither he nor other Roger Bacon staff could be voting board members of the charter schools, a decision that bothered both Mitchell and the charter school board members.

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