Elizabethton residents need to start asking questions about city’s plans for EED

Published 9:23 am Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Residents in Elizabethton and most of Carter County light up their homes, businesses, and streets with “public power” from their local municipally owned Elizabethton Electric Company. Its purpose: Providing reliable and safe electricity at a reasonable price while supporting their local community. Service is the primary objective.
Success of the city-owned utility is reflected in creditworthy bond ratings, local jobs, and economic development, efficient performance and high customer satisfaction. Founded in 1945 as a publicly owned power distributor, EED buys electricity generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and distributes it for sale to its customers.
According to its website, the Elizabethton Electric Department provides electric power to over 25,000 customers in a distribution area covering over 129 square miles, and includes over $88,000,000 in assets in four counties and four cities and towns in Northeast Tennessee. This area includes portions of Carter, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties; the cities of Elizabethton, Watauga and Johnson City, and the Town of Unicoi. It is an enterprise in which the city and the utility’s customers have had a vested interest.
Now, the city is talking about selling to BrightRidge, formerly the Johnson City Power Board. Both utilities face similar challenges from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s changing electric rate structure and stagnant revenues.
Elizabethton currently charges its residential customers about a half-cent more per kilowatt-hour of electricity than BrightRidge. However, BrightRidge’s fixed base rate is about $7 more. That means the average monthly electric bill for BrightRidge customers with a house using 1,200 kilowatt-hours is $1.25 more.
During a presentation recently to the City Council, consultants who have studied the buyout, said EED customers would see no rate increase the first year, but would see an annual increase of $13.75 during years two through five. If the buyout is not approved, EED customers would probably not see an increase.
Merging the two public utilities would require a public referendum of city voters, a majority vote of the Elizabethton City Council and an affirming vote by BrightRidge’s board of directors.
It’s a lot for Elizabethton residents to chew on, especially relinquishing control of its power company. It seems that the Elizabethton Council is more and more looking for outside interests to operate its entities. It tried that with the golf course, and it failed. Just this season, it approved a management firm for the Elizabethton Twins, and now consideration is being given to the merger of its electric department with BrightRidge.
While we do not know all the details involving the proposed merger, the question is: Are we as a community unable to manage our own businesses? Do we not have the talent and resources to manage our departments? And, if the department is healthy and is financially stable, why sell one of our biggest resources to a neighboring city?
There are lots of questions to be answered, and Elizabethton City residents need to start asking the questions. If not, we might get sold down the river, and lose one of our biggest assets.

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