Benefits of Community Ownership

What is Public Power?

Community owned, not for profit public power utilities power homes and businesses in 2,000 communities and from small towns to large cities. They safely provide reliable, low-cost electricity to more than 49 million Americans, while protecting the environment. These utilities generate or buy electricity from diverse sources. They employ 93,000 people and earn $58 billion in revenue each year. Public power supports local commerce and jobs and invests back into the community.

The History of Public Power

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, electricity was slowly making its way to North Carolina's cities and towns. Often, electricity was brought into the area by the city and used primarily to power streetlights to brighten the downtown after dark. Power was generated by coal fired generators and was produced only during the evening and night hours.

Originally, the cities built small generators in their hometowns. In some cases, the municipalities set up their own systems when other power suppliers refused to serve these communities.

The City of Statesville created the first municipally owned electric utility when it began providing service in 1889. As demand for lighting grew, electricity was brought into citizens' homes. Soon after, new appliances such as the sewing machine, clothes washer, and refrigerator were invented to simplify daily chores. At the same time, industry was becoming modernized, and industrial demand for electricity grew accordingly. Cities began to see their electric load grow.

What started as a novelty was becoming a full fledged utility service. During the early 1900s, North Carolina cities were growing quickly. Areas that were little more than a crossroads developed into towns with citizens who needed electric service. North Carolina's investor owned utilities were sometimes unwilling to invest in infrastructure to run power lines to outlying areas, so North Carolina's cities and towns stepped in and began to invest in electric transmission to serve North Carolina citizens.

Today, there are over 70 public power communities across the state, serving 535,000 North Carolinians. To them, owning their own power system means local control; fast, neighborly service; and economic benefits for their residents.

North Carolina's public power communities continue to be strong vibrant areas in which to work and live. Public power customers benefit from utility policy established by officials who live and work where they do. Local control benefits customers by allowing electric revenue to stay in the community, enabling public power cities to grow and prosper.

How did Rocky Mount enter the natural gas business?

(Pictured is the City's Manufactured Gas Plant, which was located on Albemarle Avenue where the Energy Resources Operations Center is currently located.) The completion of federal government pipelines during World War II for the transport of petroleum products east from Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana to the Mid-Atlantic States created a pipeline construction boom during postwar years. The opening of rich natural gas fields in coastal Texas and Louisiana after the war made billions of cubic feet of clean burning natural gas available to customers on the East Coast.

In 1957, North Carolina Natural Gas Company of Fayetteville announced that its pipeline across eastern North Carolina would stretch north from Greene County to Roanoke Rapids and pass just east of Rocky Mount. The City of Rocky Mount quickly decided to connect to the North Carolina Natural Gas Pipeline.

The City's manufactured gas system had served the City since 1912 when the first gas mains were constructed. However, manufactured gas had drawbacks for a modern industrial society. Manufactured gas had a much lower BTU (British thermal unit) rating than natural gas, and it was suitable only for residential cooking and heating purposes. Manufactured gas also had to be stored in telescoping gas holders, which were only capable of holding a few days' supply.

With natural gas promising more BTUs and more residential applications, it was a good choice as an added product for consumers. In 1958, the City of Rocky Mount signed a contract with a consulting engineering firm from Raleigh to draw plans and specifications for the conversion of the City's manufactured gas system to a natural gas system.

On March 2, 1959, the voters of Rocky Mount overwhelmingly approved $600,000 in bonds to convert the City's manufactured gas system to a natural gas system. During the summer of 1959, crews began to convert thousands of gas appliances for the use of natural gas. Because of the difference in BTUs and pressure, burner tips on every gas appliance in the city had to be changed.

At the same time, the City gas crews laid new high pressure mains throughout Rocky Mount. It was a huge undertaking but was accomplished on time and within budget. Natural gas flowed into the City's mains in November 1959, opening a new era of utility service for Rocky Mount residents.

What are the benefits of community ownership?
  • Customer Focused: Revenues from electricity and natural gas sales in public power and public natural gas communities go toward operating the electric and gas systems, which provides better community services and improves the quality of life for residents. A municipally owned utility does not have to pay a dividend to shareholders. In a public power and public natural gas community, stockholders are all those who benefit from municipal services: the citizens of the community. Customers have a voice in the activities of their electric and gas systems. Since each municipality sets its own policies, customers can speak out on power and gas issues at their city and town council meetings. Public power and public natural gas systems are accountable to the citizen ratepayers they serve.

  • Safe, Reliable Service: Public power and public natural gas utilities are committed to environmental stewardship, energy efficiency, safety for employees and customers, and reliable service. When compared to large utilities, public power and public natural gas communities experience fewer outages and faster restoration times.

  • Local Control: Utility policy and rates are established by officials who live and work in the community. This local control (and local operation) allows electric and gas revenue to stay in the community. By broadening a community's tax base, cities are able to grow and prosper.

  • Local Employees: Public power and public natural gas employees (office staff, customer service representatives and field crews) live in the community they serve. Therefore, they are able to respond quickly in the event of an outage or emergency and provide personal, reliable service to customers.

Additional Resources

American Public Power Association


Watch ElectriCities’ video “1.2 Million Strong”

American Public Gas Association