As Cooper Refuses to Rescind Executive Order on Utility Payments, Local Utilities Face Failure

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper gives an update on the state's response to COVID-19 during an afternoon news conference at the State of North Carolina's Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

RALEIGH – Unintended consequences.

Governor Roy Cooper said he didn’t intend for his executive order to result in people skimping out on their power or water bill, but that is exactly what has happened.

Because the order shields consumers from getting their utility service disconnected over late payments, many customers have just stopped paying altogether. Now there are plenty of citizen-owned local utilities facing the prospect of bankruptcy due to so few paying customers and no legal ability to collect.

From the Gaston Gazzette:

“[…] Last week, State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, called on Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein to grant waivers from Executive Order 142 for cities that operate citizen-owned utilities like ElectriCities of North Carolina. Without the waivers, some of the citizen-owned utilities could face potential bankruptcy, according to a statement from Folwell’s office.

“City councils, especially across eastern North Carolina, either have to comply with the governor’s order or violate the original debt covenants that were used to finance these utilities,” Folwell said. “The best path to avoid insolvency for these cities, is for the governor and attorney general to grant the waivers. This is in the best long-term interest of the city and its citizens.”

He added that nobody wants to turn off utilities for people who are suffering from economic distress associated with the shutdown. But Folwell believes elected city councils know their customers better than people in Raleigh and for decades have come up with fair and equitable solutions that will not bankrupt the utilities and cities. […]”

You can see how the unintended consequences have piled up for municipal utilities in just Cleveland County. Statewide there are more than $250,000,000 in arrearages owed to utilities who’ve no way to enforce collection via disconnection due to the executive edict.

This has been brought to the governor’s attention repeatedly; he refuses to rescind the order. And why would he? After all, he needs this order to mop up another mess of unintended consequences he is largely responsible for.

The reason that a great many utility customers couldn’t afford to pay their utility bills in the first place is because Governor Cooper’s previous executive edicts forced them into joblessness, or closed their business entirely for weeks (or months), and unemployment claims often took weeks (or months) to even be processed.

Roy Cooper cannot have throngs of jobless having their electricity cut off, because that would shine a big spot light on how damaging his shutdown orders have been to livelihoods around the state. No, instead he must issue another order that utilities can’t disconnect customers for non-payment. See how this works?

Maybe Cooper can solve this problem by issuing yet another executive order that says utility companies don’t have to pay their bliss. Actually, no one has to pay any bills, at all.

Yeah, that should do it.

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