Two closed-door discussions apparently have the board of Piedmont Municipal Power Agency no closer to a solution to pending litigation than it was before October.
Board members discussed the matter Oct. 3 at a retreat in Flat Rock, N.C., and again Thursday at the regular board meeting at the agency’s Greer headquarters, announcing no settlement.
Frustration was clear as the board met and then adjourned. Clinton Mayor Bob McLean was anxious while there was a delay waiting on an attorney to arrive from Charleston, and Board Chairman Joel Ledbetter, of Gaffney, was anxious as attorneys met in a conference room and board members wrapped up their lunch. Eventually, Ledbetter reconvened the closed session – saying, “They can join us if they want to” – and, with no new discussion, adjourned the meeting.
Previously, McLean had made a motion that attorneys not be allowed to stay in the hour-long closed session that preceded lunch. Ledbetter asked for and received a motion that attorneys be allowed to stay, but McLean filed an amended motion. A majority of the board decided to have the attorneys stay in the room during the board’s discussion – Ledbetter set some ground rules for their participation in the discussion. Both McLean and Ledbetter realized that as long as there were lawyers in the building, “the meter is running.”
“I think we can have a more frank discussion with attorneys not in the room,” McLean said.
Newberry, Laurens, Gaffney and Easley are suing Rock Hill, Greer, Clinton, Union and PMPA over what the first four cities allege are “side agreements” to have Rock Hill and Greer buy excess power from Clinton and Union. Rock Hill, Greer and Westminster have announced that in 2029 they will leave the full-service agreement of PMPA. Laurens CPW has made the first steps to leave the PMPA supplemental power agreement in 2029, if certain situations arise.
Any of the 10 PMPA member-cities have to give 10-year notice if they intend to withdraw from both, or either, of the agreements. That’s because it takes that long for PMPA to develop a strategy and rate structure going forward with less member-cities.
In addition to trying to settle the lawsuit – which appears headed for arbitration after the first of the year – the board is trying to establish rate structures for 2020 and for 2029. In doing so, it appears the agency that has reliably delivered electricity to cities for the past 39 years is fracturing.
The cities of Clinton and Laurens get the electricity they resell to residential, business and industrial customers from PMPA.
What PMPA charges the cities is a major driver in the “mark-up” that cities pass along to customers – for the past three years, Clinton residential customers have complained that what they pay for power is among the most costly rates in the state. Real estate professionals commenting on social media have said this is a major driver in their customers insisting on houses outside – instead of inside (ie, property tax-paying) – the Clinton city limits.
The next PMPA board meeting will be Nov. 21.