City of Elizabethton, BrightRidge agree to undertake consolidation study

Published 10:30 pm Thursday, November 9, 2017

JOHNSON CITY – BrightRidge officials appeared before the Elizabethton City Council on Thursday in support of a motion to move forward with an electric system consolidation study. The motion is a continuation of informal discussions that began several years ago.

“We are seeing businesses and agencies across the region look to mergers to lower costs for their customers by increasing efficiencies,” BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes said. “This is really no different than the Mountain States/Wellmont merger creating Ballad Health or the creation of the NETREP economic partnership. To borrow the phrase, truly, we are stronger together.”

Like most aspects of the economy today, technology is driving the marketplace. Forecasts from the Tennessee Valley Authority and other federal agencies project flat to negative electric usage as high-efficiency products, such as LED lighting and Energy Star appliances, proliferate in the market place.

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At the same time, distributed generation is increasingly a reality as consumer-generated solar energy and battery storage products come to market, as recently noted by TVA.

“Today, consumers can lower their bills through energy efficiency and even make some of their own energy,” Cass Larson, TVA vice president of Pricing and Contracts, recently said. “Power companies that don’t adapt and reinvent themselves won’t be able to ensure the safety, reliability and resilience consumers have come to expect.”

Dykes said the study will determine the potential for improved efficiencies in a consolidated system that could lead to additional stability in long-term rates for customers in both systems.

For the past century, collectively, citizens have invested through their power bills in developing and maintaining a commonly-shared electric distribution grid. Where technological development leaves the future consumer who is unable to afford to maintain their own electric generation remains to be seen. But marketplace factors such as high efficiency products and distributed generation will drive increasing consolidation.

“The feasibility study could present a unique opportunity for the citizens of Elizabethton to unlock untapped value in the utility,” Dykes said. “At the same time, we believe a consolidation would help long-term rate stability and ensure adequate reinvestment in both systems.”

Currently, the two systems are near parity in terms of electric rates. BrightRidge is the 10th largest public power provider in the TVA system with 78,000 customers. Elizabethton Electric has 26,068 customers.

Dykes said the study would be a complete review of financial and technological aspects of the systems. It is anticipated that if approved, both electric systems would operate separately for some period after consolidation until the systems are brought into alignment.

Any consolidation agreement would require a majority vote of the BrightRidge Board of Directors, the Elizabethton City Council and the public at a referendum commissioned by the Elizabethton Electric System.

A full 13 percent of the BrightRidge budget after wholesale power cost is returned directly to the communities it serves through payments in lieu of property taxes. BrightRidge is by far the largest individual corporate property taxpayer in Johnson City and Washington County. These payments would continue with a consolidated system.