Saturday, September 23, 2023

Shocking: Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation has not raised its rates in a decade

While Duke Energy is asking the state for a rate change to cover Hurricane Florence costs, Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation, an electric co-op, has kept its rates unchanged for 10 years.

Brunswick Electric Membership Cooperation has added about 2,000 new connections each year, but still, has kept its rates the same since 2008. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Brunswick Electric Membership Cooperation)
Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation has added about 2,000 new connections each year, but still, has kept its rates the same since 2008. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — The last time Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation raised its rates, the U.S. economy had begun its 2008 descent.

At the co-op’s October 2018 annual membership meeting, CEO Don Hughes announced Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation’s rates have remained unchanged for 10 years.

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“We have been able to keep rates stable for over a decade,” Hughes said. “What else in our daily lives can you say has not seen an increase?”

What’s an electric co-op?

Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation (BEMC) customers pay an average monthly bill of about $120, based on the average monthly use of 1,000-kilowatt hours (kWh). At $.0969 per kWh, with a monthly base rate of $23, the rate is comparable to Duke Energy’s, but the share of profits is vastly different.

BEMC, incorporated in 1939, is an electric co-op owned by the very members it serves. These members elect a board of directors with geographic representation, and the board has the authority to hire and fire BEMC’s CEO. Margins are returned to members — anyone receiving electric service — in the form of capital credits.

The co-op serves nearly all of Brunswick County, portions of Columbus County and small areas in Robeson and Balden Counties. At about 97,000 meters, BEMC’s membership has grown by about 2,000 new connections each year, according to Hughes.

As the second largest electric co-op in the state, BEMC follows a four-year work plan to keep its infrastructure on pace with growth.

“What began as a small co-op with just a couple hundred miles of line connecting a few quiet rural communities, Brunswick Electric has grown from only about a 1,000 members,” Hughes said.

Rates to remain unchanged

Compared to Duke Energy, the for-profit electric company that serves New Hanover County, BEMC has no plans to increase rates to account for storm-related costs.

Duke Energy recently asked the N.C. Utilities Commission for a rate increase to cover the $53 million in operation and maintenance expenses and $5 million in capital investments related to Hurricane Florence, reported by WECT last week.

In February 2018, Duke Energy also shifted costs onto its customers; the company settled with the state to increase monthly fixed bills to account for its cost in complying with new coal ash regulations that shut down several of its plants.

The storm cost BEMC about $6 million in damages, according to spokesperson Heather Holbrook. Since BEMC is a non-profit, the co-op is eligible for FEMA assistance, Holbrook said.

She said rates have remained low due to the co-op’s “superior safety rating” that keeps insurance premiums low. BEMC’s bond ratings are also “excellent,” allowing the co-op to borrow at lower interest rates.

“BEMC’s board and management work hard to be good stewards of the co-op’s resources,” Holbrook wrote in an email. “Ways we have managed to keep rates stable over the years can be contributed to working smart and planning ahead.”

More information on Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation can be found on its website.

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