The Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet, Dare County, NC. Photo by C. Leinbach
The main electric cable that powers Ocracoke is attached to this south end of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet, Dare County. Photo by C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

The beginning stages of work on replacing the Bonner Bridge will require that Ocracoke use generator power in mid-December.

Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative, in cooperation with North Carolina Department of Transportation, is working now to relocate the main transmission cable for the lower Outer Banks islands.

Generator power use for the tri-villages area (Waves, Rodanthe, Salvo), Hatteras and Ocracoke is scheduled for Dec. 16 to 22, said Laura Ertle, CHEC spokesperson.

CHEC will bring in three portable generators, and they will run the diesel-powered plants in Buxton and Ocracoke.  Those plants are owned by North Carolina Electric, a co-op based in Raleigh.

Right now, crews are installing new power line poles in an area west of Highway 12 at the southern end of the Bonner Bridge, Ertle said.

When those poles are ready, crews will sever the main power line to these part—the 115 kVs, which is one of the largest the electric industry uses.

Then, they will turn on the generators.

“All this work is totally dependent on the weather, Ertle explained in an interview. “We’re hoping these mild temperatures will stay the same. We’re hoping it will be a blink at the beginning and a blink at the end (of the work).”

Because this work is so weather-dependent, the dates for this power shift may shift as work progresses.

The mild weather staying the same at that time is crucial to containing the electric load that will be generated from all of the generators.

“We will have the combined assets of all of these generators,” added Heidi Jernigan Smith, spokesperson for Tideland Electric Member Cooperative, which powers Ocracoke.  “The one in Buxton can help pick up load in Ocracoke.”

Tideland will issue more information as the date draws near, she said, but it will be important for Ocracoke residents to conserve as much energy during that time as possible.

“Try not to do the laundry and bake a cake at the same time,” she said.

In February, when temperatures dropped below freezing for a couple of days, Tideland was not able to turn on the Ocracoke generator because the island drew more power than the generator could output. 

Even with Smith sending text messages to customers to turn off non-essential items, the load still was too much, and the island was without power overnight until the lines in Buxton could be fixed.

She explained that the February situation was different because frozen lines in Buxton had downed the system.

Since transmission will continue from the portable and permanent generators during the planned event later this month, it’s not the same as starting up the Ocracoke generator cold, she said.

Refunds for Tideland customers

In other Tideland news, Smith announced that cooperative members will receive refunds of varying amounts from a $2.4 million “capital credit,” or surplus, the company had this year.

Of that amount, approximately $418,000 will be paid to the estates of deceased members.

The remaining $1.98 million will be issued through a combination of checks and electric bill credits. Active account holders will receive a check during the month of December if their electric account is current at the time of distribution and if their refund is $100 or more. All other Tideland members with active accounts will receive a credit on their December electric bill.

Tideland’s Chief Executive Officer Paul Spruill said this unusually large refund is primarily attributed to historically high electric sales last winter.

“While it is always a pleasure to refund member dollars, ideally we don’t want to collect more money than is needed to comfortably meet our obligations,” Spruill said. “Last winter’s extended cold snap, coupled with a much more stable energy market than originally forecast, resulted in significantly higher member margins than anticipated.  This one-time, large refund allows the cooperative to meet its financial obligations while getting member dollars back into our local communities.”

In the last 10 years, Tideland has retired $8.9 million to co-op members.

Capital credits represent member margins that are collected through electric bill revenues and reinvested in the cooperative’s utility infrastructure.

At the end of each year, Tideland’s expenses are deducted from revenue and the remaining funds are proportionally assigned to each member as capital credits based on a percentage of what they paid for electricity during the calendar year.

By using member capital to maintain its electric system, Tideland is able to minimize its reliance on outside lenders thus reducing borrowing costs for the entire membership. Tideland’s ability to retire capital credits is based on the co-op meeting financial performance goals as established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.

The amount returned to an individual member is based on the total amount they paid for electricity during the years for which the refund is made.

Checks for refunds of $100 or more will be mailed to former members at their last known address.

Undeliverable or unclaimed refunds are eventually escheated to the North Carolina Department of Treasury and can be searched and a claim filed at

 In the case of a deceased member, the estate executor or clerk of court should contact Tideland to request a refund application. The form can also be downloaded at the cooperative’s website

In addition to capital credit refunds, Tideland EMC members have reaped the benefits of a wholesale power cost adjustment (WPCA) credit issued on all 2015 electric bills.   For the first 10 months of 2015, those credits totaled $949,523 and will exceed $1 million by year end.

Tideland EMC serves 22,500 accounts in Beaufort, Hyde, Washington, Pamlico, Craven and Dare counties.


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