Bipartisan utilities legislation is welcome news

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N.C. Sens. Buck Newton, a Republican, and Angela Bryant, a Democrat, have teamed up to sponsor much-needed legislation to address one of the biggest pocketbook issues for many folks in Eastern North Carolina – utility rates.

Newton and Bryant, who represent districts that include different parts of Nash County, have introduced a bill that would require the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency to sell its assets or renegotiate a $2 billion debt that customers in Rocky Mount and 31 other cities otherwise will be paying until 2026.

Utility bills here and in other towns that are part of the Eastern Municipal Power Agency are 40 percent higher than the state average.

Not only do those exorbitant charges hit us in the mouth each month, they discourage potential industries from locating in this part of the state – another factor that hurts a regional economy still struggling in the wake of the Great Recession.

The enormous debt carried by the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency originated in the 1970s, when more than 30 cities and towns teamed together to help build nuclear power plants. But the cost of power plant construction soared to unimaginable heights after a nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.

As a result, the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency and its member towns and cities have struggled since then to make payments on the enormous debt taken on almost 40 years ago.

The bill that Newton and Bryant have introduced could go a long way toward alleviating that burden. We can only hope that legislators from other parts of the state recognize the economic importance of this measure.

Utilities customers in Rocky Mount and other parts of Eastern North Carolina have borne that debt long enough.