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  • Painless Ways to Cut Those Painful Summer Power Bills

    As a residential energy auditor here at ElectriCities, I see firsthand how people are cutting their power costs — or needlessly wasting their money. Folks think they need new windows and this and  that to make their homes more energy efficient, but there are plenty of small things that can make a real difference, without costing them a cent.

    The number one thing I tell people in the summer is to keep their thermostat set on 78°. Every degree below 78 can add three to five percent to your cooling bill. (In the winter, every degree above 68 can add the same three to five percent to your heating costs.) I’ve been to homes in August where the temperature is 66°. That’s something we all have control over — it doesn’t cost you anything to walk over to your thermostat.

    Quite often, especially in older homes, the ductwork is leaky. I ask people if every room stays the same temperature, and inevitably they’ll say something like, “Johnny’s room’s freezing, but Sally’s room is hot.” So we know quickly that there’s a ductwork issue somewhere.

    In a lot of homes, I see pull-down attic steps that don’t close correctly. They’re a bit off-kilter, so in the winter, they’re heating the attic, and in the summer, the attic heat is coming into the house. It’s a good idea to insulate behind the steps and use weather stripping around the opening.

    Make sure the air conditioning unit itself is clean. Most people don’t keep their return filters cleaned or replaced as often as they should. The best ones are the plain, flat, cheap ones, and they should be changed each month. The more expensive three-month filters (with ridges like an accordion) are so thick the air can’t get through — so the system has to work harder. I’ve been in houses where people have lived for 25 years and didn’t know they had a filter, so it was never changed. Others have always had window units and don’t understand how a central air conditioning system works/functions, from changing filters to setting the thermostat. I also suggest you have your cooling system professionally cleaned every other year to make sure it’s operating at peak performance and efficiency.

    Brian McGinn, Energy AuditorPeople seem to be unaware of the fact that window unit air conditioners have a filter, too, and it needs to be removed and cleaned. (In the winter, I recommend removing the unit completely and closing the window.) I’d say 90 percent of the homes I visit have ceiling fans spinning the wrong way — and they’ve been going that same direction for years. In summer, if you’re lying on the floor looking up at your fan, it should be going counterclockwise. The opposite’s true for the winter.

    Cooling and heating your home accounts for about half your power bill, so managing that usage is key. But there are plenty of other ways to save. An electric hot water heater is maybe the second-biggest energy user in the home, and it’s generally set too high. The optimum setting is 120° or less. And when you go on vacation, turn the electric hot water heater off. There’s no sense heating water you’re not going to use. It’s like leaving the car running when you’re not driving.

    That’s a good rule of thumb: if you’re not using something, turn it off. If you’re not charging your cell phone, unplug the charger from the wall. Switch the TV off if you’re not watching it. Turn the lights out when you leave the room.

    So, the moral of the story is, by looking into things around the house and changing our habits a little, we can all cut our power costs. And the only investment needed is a little time here and there.

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  • Powered Up Perspectives: Mayor David Combs, Rocky Mount

    Mayor CombsHeading into 2015, we chatted with public power leaders across the state — to get their outlook on economic development in 2015. One of those leaders was Mayor David Combs of Rocky Mount.

    Looking Back At 2014
    2014 was a good year for us. Our unemployment rate continued to recover from the economic downturn a few years ago. We had two good announcements — Nutcao, an Italian company, invested in Rocky Mount and built a new facility. They will hire 80-100 employees. Acme United, a company that manufactures everything from rulers to surgical scissors, will bring 80-100 jobs.

    Looking At 2015
    Back in 2013, Hospira finished an $80 million expansion to their existing facility. They recently announced that they'll be investing another $160 million on new lines and expansion. That's great news to start 2015. We have a strong focus on existing industry — companies that have shown their commitment to Rocky Mount through the years. Hospira considered other locations before they announced the Rocky Mount expansion — we’re very pleased they chose to expand their existing facility. Cummings Diesel is another company that’s been in Rocky Mount for many years and continues to grow and add lines. We think that shows our strong business climate and the city's dedication to our corporate citizens. Also, incentives are an important part of the landscape. Being able to offer financial benefits is essential to retaining and growing our economic base.

    We're actively marketing our megasite, a certified site with rail, water, sewer and all utilities. Last year, we really focused on marketing the site, bringing in site consultants for tours to get it on their radar. We’re working with Carolinas Gateway Partnership and Edgecombe County to aggressively market the site. Several automotive projects are looking at the site now and we’re optimistic for an announcement.

    Challenges
    It's a very competitive environment to land large industries. You're not only competing with other areas of North Carolina and other states, but with their economic incentives and packages.

    Opportunities
    We have sites that are perfect in terms of logistics. Not only do we have a great location with interstate highways and rail lines, we're also close to the ports at Norfolk with convenient rail and highway access.

    One of the most exciting projects we have going on is in the old cotton mill property. Capital Broadcasting bought it to develop similar to their American Tobacco campus in Durham. A new Brew Mill will be developed on the river, on the site of the old Rocky Mount Mills. There will be shared microbrewery space. It's a new model that's getting a lot of buzz. They also bought the mill village homes in the area and they're being remodeled and updated — which will appeal to younger people. We expect this to be another huge driver of jobs and tourism.

    Downtown redevelopment continues as well. Edgecombe Community College is building a $12 million biotech facility in a downtown Rocky Mount campus. Southern Bank is expanding and has committed to $5 million construction of a new operations center in downtown. They’ll renovate an existing building for a full-block campus in downtown Rocky Mount.

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  • Powered Up Perspective: Rick Howell, Shelby

    Rick Howell city manager of ShelbyThe coming of a new year is always exciting. With it comes an opportunity to look back at the previous year, and forward to what may lie ahead. We thought it would be valuable to get the perspectives of public power leaders across the state. We asked about economic development in their area: their thoughts on 2014, their outlook for 2015 and the challenges they’ve faced or see on the horizon. This issue, we hear from Rick Howell, City Manager of Shelby.

    For business development in your area, how would you sum up 2014?

    2014 was a very encouraging year. We had two very nice economic development projects come to fruition. One was a company called Greenheck, a Wisconsin-based company that invested $26 million in a 140,000 square foot facility that began production in September – with plans to hire 177 new employees over the next five years.

    A German company called KSM Castings — a manufacturer of aluminum high-pressure die-cast automotive parts for BMW, Volkswagen and others — opened a 150,000 square foot facility, a $45 million investment, with the potential for 189 jobs. In addition, the city began construction on the second shell building in our business park. We finished construction of that in June and we’ve had about 10 visits from clients interested in the building.

    The Scruggs Center opened in January of 2014. Visitor tourism is one of the legs of our economic development stool, so we’re excited about that. We’re part of the Blue Ridge Music Trail, and it’s seen quite a bit of traffic for a new museum. And we’ve begun construction on an uptown open-air farmer’s market that will be complete in April of this year – about 8,400 square feet, a very nice facility.

    And what do you think 2015 will look like?

    2015 has been somewhat slower. We have an expansion for an existing Japanese company, Yutaka – they make components for electric motors that go in automobiles. They’re doing a 40,000 square foot expansion, which is about a $5 million investment.

    We’re going to see some good retail development this year. We have a couple new hotels coming. I’m optimistic about it. We’re also going to have a new brewery, Newgrass Brewery, open in June. It’s going to go in an old building downtown.

    Are there particular areas where you will focus?

    We’re hoping to initiate the first phase of a new soccer complex. It’ll not only be geared toward our Parks and Recreation, but on visitor and tournament travel that we’re hoping to attract. That will be a multi-million dollar facility on approximately 85 acres just north of the city.

    Norfolk Southern is abandoning a rail line – a 10-mile segment from the South Carolina line up into the city limits. We’re hoping to make that a rail trail–and a centerpiece of downtown.

    Although we wouldn’t turn away a big economic development project, we've focused on smaller employers in the 200-employee range, who’ll invest $20-50 million. We’ve tried to focus on a diversity of products and skill sets. We were a textile town in the 1990s, and after NAFTA we lost our textiles. It was a significant blow. So part of our planning has been to have a very diverse industrial base.

    A lot of people overlook entrepreneurs in the economy. We’re working with a group of organizations and individuals to develop an entrepreneurial program that will help us understand the needs of the entrepreneurial community in our county and our city. We want to make it easy for them to achieve what they’re trying to achieve. That’s going to be a focus and we’re working with a consultant that will help us go through the certified entrepreneurial community process. In Shelby, we know that small businesses, entrepreneurs in particular, have a lot to bring to the table, like job creation. This will help us market ourselves to younger people. They can live anywhere, and maybe through technology, they can have their business anywhere.

    What challenges will you face? What opportunities? How will you take on those challenges and opportunities?

    One of our challenges, and it’s a statewide challenge, is economic development incentives. We’re hoping our General Assembly will come to the table with a strong package of incentives. That uncertainty will hurt our ability to attract business and industry. 

    In Shelby, one of the things we have to do is brand and market ourselves – to get the message out that we’re a community to be reckoned with and a place where people would want to live. There are lots of opportunities to market ourselves: our business park, the Scruggs Center, the Don Gibson Theater, the new brewery, our restaurants, the new farmer’s market and the rail trail.

    I think we’re a community that has done a good job of collaborating with each other and forming partnerships and recognizing that we all will rise and fall together. We know how to work together, and people have been able to put aside their egos and work together toward the greater good of the community.

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  • Powered Up for 2015

    Last year was another eventful year for the ElectriCities Economic Development team, marked by increased demand from both new and expanding businesses. Brenda Daniels, ElectriCities’ Economic Development Manager, sees no signs of slowing down in the year ahead.

    The Economic Development team is always looking for strategies and custom-developed programs to make NC Public Power sites more competitive. Smart Communities, now in its third year, offers grants for community-specific projects to help attract and retain commercial and industrial customers. This year we’re introducing the Smart Sites (S²) program, a shovel-ready site qualification program to support economic development opportunities for our members.

    “New and expanding companies expect existing buildings or a prepared, shovel-ready site to shorten the amount of time needed for construction,”
    said Daniels. “We continue to see demand for shovel-ready sites, so we created Smart Sites to help increase building and site inventory in NC Public Power communities.”

    Making connections is a huge component of economic development. Our team markets NC Public Power communities at trade shows across the country. Many of these shows attract thousands of economic development professionals with the goal of matching growing businesses with the partners to help them succeed. This year, we will continue to promote NC Public Power with a particular emphasis on the growing automotive, food processing, marine sectors and retail sectors.

    “The retail trade shows offer a unique opportunity for member communities to meet with a variety of retailers at one time,” said Daniels. “We typically host several communities at our booth at the International Council of Shopping Center’s RECon trade show, held each year in Las Vegas. It’s three non-stop days of appointments with retailers and commercial developers. The presence at that show has netted new retailers in public power communities and developed long-standing relationships.”

    Relationship building is critical in our industry. We foster relationships with site consultants on a variety of different projects, making sure they know about the services we offer. And we’re meeting with our members to hear what’s happening in their communities — and how we can help with local economic development efforts.

    “Another 2015 initiative for us is focusing on the new economic development public-private partnership in the state,” said Daniels. “We will continue to educate the new organization about the services we provide and advocate for public power communities. I’m pleased to serve on the NC Economic Developers Association board to help influence economic development policy in the state.”

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  • A Car Hits a Pole - and Public Power Hits a Home Run

    Light Pole Repair

    On Monday, October 6, there was a car accident in Ayden, North Carolina. A motorist hit a pole, and luckily, was not hurt. The pole, however, was hurt – a 115kV pole that serves electricity to Ayden. It didn’t break, but was in real danger of falling and interrupting service to the town.

    Robert Sutton, Director of Public Utilities for the Town of Ayden, picks up the story.

    “We have the capabilities to repair it, but we were going to have to shut our system down and put the town in the dark for three or four hours – businesses, residences, everything,” Sutton said.

    So Ayden officials called ElectriCities and asked for help. Jason Thigpen, a senior power delivery engineer with ElectriCities, put Ayden in touch with David Deschamps, the regional mutual aid coordinator and Operations Manager with Wilson Energy.

    “They asked if we could work with 115kV hot,” said Deschamps. “They didn’t want to take the town out, and we said that wouldn’t be a problem. He said, ‘Fine, c’mon down.’ So we loaded up the cranes and headed to Ayden.”

    “They rolled in about four o’clock, worked till dark and got it stabilized,” Sutton said.

    Deschamps added, “Working with 115kV hot, visibility is key so when nightfall came, we headed back to Wilson and went back over the next day.”

    “The next morning they came back and finished it up with no interruption of power at all,” Sutton reports. By lunchtime, a new pole was in place, and the Wilson crew packed up. To show their appreciation, the Ayden group took the Wilson crew to lunch and gave them t-shirts for the Collard Festival before they headed home.

    “There aren’t many crews that have the knowhow and the equipment and the expertise to go in and work with power lines like that. We were glad we could help out,” Deschamps says.

    The Town of Ayden was glad, too. And as Sutton says, “They couldn’t have been a better crew to work with.”

    What could’ve been a disaster – for the driver, for the people and businesses of Ayden and for its public power workers – had a happy ending. What’s more, ElectriCities and its communities got to see just how well neighbor helping neighbor can work.

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  • Pretty in Pink in Pikeville: Town Draws Line(s) to combat Cancer

    Photo of town officials at a pink parking stripe

    It’s not unheard of for folks to paint the town red, but pink? Yep, pink.

    This spring, Pikeville was eager to generate some buzz for Wayne County’s Relay For Life—an American Cancer Society® walking event that unites communities to honor cancer survivors, create awareness about reducing cancer risk and raise money to help fight the disease.

    During that time some town leaders had a stroke of genius. Which, incidentally, created a slew of strokes. Brushstrokes, that is.

    “In late March, a lady at one of our local businesses told me that the parking stripes downtown were fading and asked if we could do something about it,” recounts Blake Proctor, Pikeville’s town administrator. “As I was discussing the matter with my Public Works crew and getting measurements for paint cost estimates, another guy came out of the store next door, suggested pink, and walked back inside. I thought it was a wonderful idea so I brought it up with the Board of Commissioners that same night and asked them what they thought.”

    Turns out they were 100% supportive of the idea. After all, nearly everyone has had a friend or relative who’s been affected by the disease. A few pen strokes later, the BOC wholeheartedly gave their A-OK to paint the town pink.

    “The next day,” continues Proctor, “I went to the paint store, had the paint mixed, and within two weeks, all the public parking stripes in town – including downtown, the library parking lot and the Dees Park parking lot – had been painted what we dubbed ‘cancer-awareness pink’.”

    But there’s more to this colorful story.

    At its April 7 meeting, the BOC unanimously adopted Resolution 14-02, declaring Pikeville the first and only community in the entire nation to have all of its parking lines painted cancer-awareness pink. Thus designating the town to be America’s Premier Cancer Awareness Community.

    So what do folks think of the pink parking lines? Some citizens questioned the idea; however, when they were told about the cancer awareness connection, almost all became ardent supporters of the pink stripes. “The librarian told me that every person who has come into the library has commented positively about the pink parking stripes, as have the downtown merchants I’ve talked to,” states Proctor.

    According to Proctor, the long-term goal of this bold initiative is to keep people focused on and aware of the insidious nature of all types of cancer. Additionally, he hopes the campaign draws positive attention to Pikeville. “We’d love for our campaign to go viral,” he says.

    Beyond the parking lines, on May 7, Proctor, along with Mayor Glenn Hartman and Mayor Pro Tem Todd Anderson, shaved their heads in recognition and support of cancer awareness. Let’s hope they had plenty of sunscreen. Otherwise, there’s a good chance parking lines won’t be the only pink that people will see in Pikeville!

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  • Out But Not Down

    Community Support Lifts High Point During Power Outage

    It was a low point in High Point. In early March, a nasty ice storm knocked out power to nearly 80 percent of the city.

    “For me, this was High Point’s storm of the century,” reflects City Manager, Strib Boynton. “Incredibly, 32,000 of our 41,000 customers awoke to no electricity on Friday, March 7. Power was restored by Tuesday, March 11 thanks to the Herculean effort of our city’s utilities department and help from crews from Kings Mountain and Concord.” Pike crews from all around, including Greenville, SC, also pitched in with the restoration.

    All told, the storm hit the High Point area with up to 3/4 of an inch of ice. The heft of the ice – coupled with wind gusts of up to 30 mph – resulted in hundreds of downed trees and limbs, many of which struck power lines.

    “We had trees being uprooted with the weight of the ice on them,” remarks Electric Department Director, Garey Edwards. “We can deal with a half-inch, but with the amount of ice and the wind, it’s one of those events that takes a while to deal with.”

    Not surprisingly, the duration of the outage had a negative impact on much of the city. Despite the heavy ice dimming the lights on many residents, the storm provided an opportunity for folks in High Point to shine in some of its darkest hours. And shine they did.

    In the midst of the outage, Boynton challenged local charities and churches to pull together to help raise $50,000 to provide perishable food to those who lost it. The United Way, Helping Hands, New Beginnings Ministries, Macedonia Family Resource Center, Open Door Ministries, The Salvation Army, Ward Street Community Resource and West End Ministries all answered the call.

    Along with help from Food Lion, the community quickly raised more than $53,000, which was used to purchase Food Lion gift cards. On March 20 – less than two weeks after the challenge was issued – the gift cards were distributed to those in need.

    But the generosity didn’t stop there. Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian organization, spent a week in High Point clearing debris from the property of 163 homeowners who didn’t have the resources to do so on their own.

    Additionally, American Public Works Association mutual aid crews rapidly arrived from Asheville, Charlotte, Gastonia, Raleigh and Mooresville to help local crews with debris cleanup. Several Asplundh tree crews also were involved in the effort.

    In the end, electricity was restored, relief was distributed and debris was cleaned up. Most importantly, though, High Point demonstrated that the collective power of a community can be a beacon of hope and light in times of darkness.

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  • New Bern Rolls Out New Accessibility Icon

    New Bern is not one to shy away from important movements.

    Settled in 1710, New Bern served as the capital of the North Carolina colonial government. Following the Revolutionary War, the city’s magnificent Tryon Palace was briefly used as the first capitol building of our newly independent state.

    Today, New Bern is making headlines for being the first city in North Carolina to support the Accessible Icon Project (AIP), which replaces the old international Symbol of Access with a more dynamic symbol design.
    The revitalized accessibility symbols in New Bern are the result of Harvard graduate student, Sara Hendren, and her North Carolina friend, Brendon Hildreth.

    Sara was a graduate student at the Harvard School of Design when she set out to modernize the International Symbol of Access into an image that reflects an active lifestyle. She thought the old access icon looked too “mechanical and static,” and knew many wheelchair users are anything but. As a result, she co-created a new image with Brian Glenney, which depicts a life in motion.

    Soon thereafter the idea and icon got the wheels turning in Brendon’s mind.

    So, when Brendon and his family moved from Reading, MA to New Bern, the 23-year-old, who has cerebral palsy and often uses a wheelchair, started his own movement. He launched a grassroots campaign in his new hometown to introduce New Bern to the Accessible Icon Project. In August, Brendon, his family, and his Volunteer Assistant, Don Haines, presented and explained the AIP to the New Bern Board of Aldermen.

    Brendon used a special touchscreen voice computer to share his idea with the Mayor and the Board; he asked for support and a commitment to change over city parking lots to reflect the new icon. After his presentation, the Board of Aldermen encouraged the City to explore the idea further and consider getting involved.

    It didn’t take long for the Board to set things in motion.

    Thanks to a community partnership between the New Bern Police Department, Public Works Department, Finance Department, and the Hildreths, the City of New Bern became the first city in North Carolina to publicly show its support for the AIP.

    On October 1, about 30 people, including Board of Aldermen members and city employees, watched Brendon paint the first icon on the east parking area of the city’s Business Office, the customer account service center for utilities.
    Brendon’s mom, Darcy, said it’s her son’s goal to take the ‘dis’ out of disability. “Everyone has ability,” she said. “We really believe in Brendon; just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean they can’t make a difference.”

    Clearly Brendon’s living proof of that. Today he serves as Co-Director for the AIP, overseeing projects in North Carolina where he works with many national and local organizations including: Zaxby’s, Texas Steakhouse, Fairfield Harbour, Carolina East Medical Center and the city.

    It’s the Hildreth’s hope that the Accessible Icon Project will spread across the United States. With Brendon helping to lead the project, you can bet it’s going to continue to move forward.

    Bring the Movement to Your Town

    Want to be considered forward-thinking? Then participate in the Accessible Icon Project! To get things moving, go to
    accessibleicon.org or call the Hildreth family at 252-649-1392 or email at dwhildreth@msn.com today.
    Don’t delay! This is one movement that every NC Public Power community is encouraged to get behind.

    Brenden and others standing over the accessible icon painted on a parking space

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