OUR VIEW: Important Decisions Ahead For Board Locked In At 5-5
September 19th could be one of the most important dates in Clinton’s history, and not because of something happening here.
Instead, something happening in Greer.
On that date, the board of the Piedmont Municipal Power Agency is scheduled to vote on rate structures for 2020, and for 2029 and beyond when three cities leave their electricity-buying agreements with the agency. That will leave seven member-cities paying the full price for operating the 34-year-old agency, while maintaining the current ten member-cities board. Formation of the board was made under a separate agreement.
The troubling thing is this, the PMPA Board is deadlocked at 5-5.
Any motion to do anything FAILS on a tie vote, and it appears all ten positions are firmly locked into place. Clinton is on Rock Hill’s side - Newberry and Laurens are on the other side.
It’s all encapsulated in a lawsuit. We would know the status of the legal action, but the Clinton City Council discussed it last Tuesday in closed session. So, all we can do is speculate.
What makes the 2020 - and beyond - rate structure so important is that Clinton is fighting an on-going battle with its electric rates. We received a very troubling report the other day from a new restaurant in town related to electricity costs. Residential customers have complained for many months, especially during “spike” periods of summer heat. The City says electrical rates are stable; Clinton’s representative on the board, Mayor Bob McLean, has said no one is “leaving” PMPA.
PMPA needs to refinance its debt. Yet, there has been some speculation on the board that the on-going lawsuit - members vs. members, and an accompanying effort to oust board chairman Joel Ledbetter of Gaffney - could scare away investors.
If the debt can be refinanced, electric rates could decrease 6% in 2021 (but extended for a longer time, 2043), the board was told recently.
That certainly would be welcome news for the City of Clinton’s residential electrical customers - if the City were to pass along the full 6% rate reduction.
What PMPA charges is a driver in how much the member-cities charge for electricity which is resold to residential, business and industrial customers.
The Cities of Rock Hill and Greer allege that the current rates that PMPA charges for electricity are not fair to them as growing cities. These cities have aligned three others to vote with them in an effort to effect change in the rate structure - and in the board’s chairmanship.
On Aug. 22, after the 2029 rate structure study was presented, Chairman Ledbetter announced the board would break for lunch, then reconvene in executive session for legal advice.
Presuming the legal advice would be about the chairman position - a motion to replace the chairman had been tabled - Newberry Mayor Foster Senn questioned the action.
He said receiving legal advice about the board chairman was not a proper executive (closed) session topic - since it did not involve litigation, personnel, contract, or a trade secret.
Ledbetter clarified - the closed session was to hear from the PMPA litigation counsel about the agency’s position in the pending lawsuit (not the agency’s regular legal counsel about the chairmanship). Senn said that was permissible; but he expressed concern that it was the afternoon, the meeting having started at 10 a.m., and he would not be able to hear the legal presentation, since he had another commitment.
Later, the motion to dismiss the chairman was “untabled” and "yes" votes were cast by Clinton, Rock Hill, Greer, Union and Westminster.
"No" votes were cast by Laurens, Abbeville, Easley, Gaffney and Newberry. There is no "tie-breaker" vote on the 10-member board; the motion can come up again at any time.
A 5-5 split - and Clinton’s future as an electric city hanging in the balance.