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uneven development and electric power in north carolina

Many towns in eastern North Carolina face a number of challenges common to the rural South, including high rates of poverty and diminishing employment opportunities. However, some residents of this region also confront a unique hardship—electricity prices that are vastly higher than those of surrounding areas.  This project examines the origins of pricing inequalities in the electricity market of eastern North Carolina—namely how such inequalities developed and their role in the production of racial and economic disparities in the region.

In this work I have examined the evolving relations between federal and state agencies, corporations, and electric utilities from the early 20th century to present, and I ask why these interactions have produced varying social outcomes across different places and spatial settings. I particularly focus on the origins and subsequent development of electric utilities in eastern North Carolina, and examine how electricity as a material technology interacted with geographies of race and class, as well as the dictates of capital accumulation. This approach enables a rethinking of several concepts that are rarely examined by scholars of electric utilities, most notably the monopoly service territory, which I argue served as a spatial fix to accumulation problems in the industry. Further, I argue that examining the way that electric utilities developed in North Carolina during the 20th century brings to the forefront the at times contradictory relationships among systems of electricity provision, Jim Crow segregation, the Progressive Era, and the New Deal. Such a focus highlights the important role that the control of electricity provision played in shaping the racial, social, and economic inequalities that continue to persist in the region.