Last updated: February 05. 2014 7:40AM - 1883 Views

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If you buy your electricity from the town of Red Springs or the city of Lumberton, then you have something to cheer for — Duke.

Not Duke University, that perennial powerhouse in college basketball, but Duke Energy, the nation’s largest power company that provides electricity for much of Robeson County. Duke Energy announced this week that it has begun negotiations to purchase ownership interests in power plants that provide electricity for 32 North Carolina municipalities that are members of North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency, including Red Springs and Lumberton.

If you live in Red Springs or Lumberton, you already know that you pay a much higher rate for electricity than do your out-of-town neighbors, but you might not know why.

Decades ago, when nuclear power was emerging as a cleaner and cheaper power source than coal, municipalities united to form the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency with plans to buy ownership of those plants and provide their customers cheaper electricity. The municipal agency has partial ownership in the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County, the Brunswick nuclear plant in Brunswick County and two coal-burning power plants in Person County.

Then Three-Mile Island happened in 1979, and nuclear energy, saddled with new and more stringent regulations, was no longer a cheaper alternative. Lumberton and Red Springs residents are among 270,000 North Carolinians who continue to pay for that accident in Pennsylvania.

Negotiations have just begun, but the intent is to lower power costs paid by homes and businesses in these municipalities, which could add up to hundreds and even thousands of dollars in savings a year for homeowners and much more for businesses and industries. Among all the benefits, it would make Lumberton, Red Springs and Robeson County more attractive in economic development recruitment efforts.

“We do expect that if this sale was complete, that the participants would immediately be more cost-competitive,” said Rebecca Agner, a spokeswoman with ElectriCities of North Carolina, the trade association that manages the municipal power agency.

There is much to be worked out, and no deal is complete without the appropriate signatures. Duke Energy, for instance, worked for two years to buy ownership of the Santee Cooper, S.C., nuclear plant before that bid came up empty.

But local officials, as detailed in staff writer Sarah Willets’ Page 1A story today, are optimistic that the deal will happen and that Lumberton and Red Springs’s residents will see smaller electrical bills, freeing up money that can be spent elsewhere.

Let’s go Duke.

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