Selma Councilman Eric Sellers might be right. Selma might not have the data it needs to make an informed decision on how much to lower electricity rates. But while Mr. Sellers is probably right on the policy, his fellow councilman, Tommy Holmes, is likely right on the politics. Which is to say that politically speaking, no council in a public power town can go wrong by providing relief from high electricity rates.
Mr. Sellers is probably right on the policy because Selma doesn’t yet have the rate study it ordered in advance of Duke Energy’s purchase of the town’s power-generating assets. Without that study, any rate cut is an uneducated guess that could prove costly to town coffers if the cut turns out to be too steep.
Mr. Holmes is likely right on the politics because wholesale-electricity costs in public power towns, including Selma, are guaranteed to fall with the Duke Energy deal. The consensus we’ve heard is that towns are expecting to pay at least 15 percent less for electricity once the deal closes at month’s end. Given that, Mr. Holmes’ successful motion to lower rates 10 percent starting Aug. 1 doesn’t appear that financially risky and could even prove stingy.
Meanwhile, a rate cut of 10 percent is certainly appealing to the town’s utility customers, who have been burdened for decades by utility rates made punishingly high by debt. And it should be appealing to Selma leaders, whose desire to recruit new families and businesses has been hampered by too-high electricity rates.
Among Johnston County’s four public power towns, only Smithfield and Selma have moved to cut electricity rates. Benson and Clayton will apparently wait on their rate studies, expected to arrive before the end of the year.
Those are sound policy decisions, but we wonder if they’re the right decisions politically, especially in an election year. Come November, the incumbents in Smithfield and Selma can boast that they lowered electricity rates – and did so right away. Incumbents in Benson and Clayton might not be able to say that.
In which case, those incumbents might have won the policy battle but lost the political war. And they won’t be the only losers; utility customers, still burdened by high rates, will be casualties too.