A Guide to North Carolina’s Electric Power Providers
An illustrated guide to the electric utilities that serve North Carolina.
CAUTION: This article has been updated since it was first published in 2013. You can also reference the most current article from our May 2016 issue.
More than 100 separately organized electric power providers serve nearly 10 million people in North Carolina. Each covers a designated service area, and depending upon where you live, your electric service could come from a consumer-owned electric cooperative, an investor-owned utility, your city government, a university-owned utility or some other utility operating in the state.
History & Service Areas
In the early days of electrification, power was only available in larger communities where power companies could count on sufficient economic return. In the 1930s and ’40s, rural North Carolinians formed cooperatives that they could own and manage themselves to bring electricity to more sparsely populated regions.
After World War II, growth in North Carolina’s towns and cities began spilling over into these formerly rural areas. In 1965, the North Carolina Utilities Commission (an agency of state government formed in 1891) brought together investor-owned utilities and cooperatives in order to define and assign service areas.
This division of service areas still stands today, although with some modifications. In 2005, state legislation clarified the procedures by which cooperatives and municipal electric systems negotiate their respective service areas in relation to one another.
In the summer of 2012, a merger of the investor-owned utilities Duke Energy and Progress Energy formed the largest regulated utility in the nation. Duke Energy (the official name of the merged corporations) serves some 7.4 million electric accounts in six states, including about 3.3 million in North Carolina.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission has jurisdiction over the licensing of new generating plants operated by all electric power providers and over the construction of new electric transmission facilities that are 161 kilovolts and above in size.
Investor-owned utilities operate within the jurisdiction of the commission, which oversees their rates and service practices. Cooperatives and municipal electric systems are regulated by their own local governing bodies.
Cooperatives pay all the taxes that investor-owned utilities pay, except income tax because cooperatives are not-for-profit businesses.
The North Carolina Rural Electrification Authority, whose five members are appointed by the governor, reviews the cooperatives’ federal loan applications and consumer comments.
- 26 independent, not-for-profit electric power providers owned and governed by their local members. Approximately 1 million North Carolina homes, farms and businesses (approximately 2.5 million people) served by the 26 cooperatives (also known as electric membership corporations or EMCs). Their service areas extend to 93 of the state’s 100 counties.
- 5 co-ops based in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina serve border areas in North Carolina.
- 25 co-ops belong to the North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation, a generation and transmission cooperative that supplies its members with all or parts of their power needs. NCEMC’s power mix includes owned assets and purchased power with more than half of its portfolio coming from nuclear generation, including shared ownership of Catawba Nuclear Station in York County, S.C. In addition to this emissions-free nuclear source, NCEMC’s owned assets include two natural-gas peak generating plants (Anson and Richmond counties) and two diesel-powered generating facilities in Buxton and Ocracoke. NCEMC is also working with many member cooperatives to facilitate the construction and incorporation of community solar farms across the state. Additionally, NCEMC is one of the largest buyers of wholesale electric power in the nation.
- All 26 N.C. co-ops belong to the North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives, a trade association that performs services statewide, including publishing Carolina Country.
Investor-owned electric utilities
Duke Energy Carolinas
- Headquartered in Charlotte.
- Serves approximately 2.5 million accounts in central and western North Carolina and western South Carolina in a service area of approximately 24,000 square miles.
Duke Energy Progress
- Wholly-owned subsidiary of Duke Energy.
- Serves approximately 1.5 million accounts in central and eastern North Carolina, plus an area in and around Asheville and northeastern South Carolina. The total service area is approximately 32,000 square miles.
- Headquartered in Richmond, VA. Operates in northeastern North Carolina as Dominion North Carolina Power.
- Serves approximately 120,000 North Carolina accounts.
Municipal & University-owned systems
- More than 70 municipally-owned electric systems serve approximately 500,000 North Carolina households and businesses within some city and town limits.
- Several of our state’s universities serve their campuses with electric facilities that they own and operate within the municipal electric system structure.
- Most of the municipal and university-owned electric systems are members of ElectriCities, an umbrella non-profit organization that provides its member systems services such as training, member and government relations, communications and emergency assistance.
- ElectriCities also provides management services to two municipal power agencies that supply wholesale electricity directly to 51 ElectriCities members and indirectly to another five members. These power agencies are North Carolina Municipal Power Agency Number 1, which has partial interest in the Catawba Nuclear Station, and North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency.
- A portion of the electric power for these municipally-owned systems is purchased wholesale from investor-owned utilities.
Read more about North Carolina's Electric Cooperatives