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PCC addresses wind power, levelized billing

By Staff, 02/21/18 1:46 PM


PRESCOTT – There was a packed house at Prescott City Hall for the February meeting of the Prescott City Council Tuesday night.

Those present learned residents will soon be getting a bit of a break on their electric bill, first from levelized billing, and secondly from the city entering into an agreement with SWEPCO on a deal for wind energy.

Larry Jones, electrical operations manager, talked about levelized billing, saying this is something people have talked about over the years. The issue was examined and it was found the current computer system can handle levelized billing, though it could cause a financial shortfall from month to month as not all the money will be recovered. However, he said, he’s been told this won’t be a problem.

Questions were raised about who could get on levelized billing. Jones said this program would apply to customers who have lived at the same address for 12 consecutive months and have developed a utility history. But, he added, if someone moves, they start from scratch and would have to be at the new residence for a year before they could apply for levelized billing.

The program will be entirely voluntary, and customers of Prescott Water and Light will have to apply to get on it. The advantage, Jones said, is the customers who get on levelized billing will have a relatively consistent bill from month to month, which would make it easier for budgeting. The usage will be examined annually to see if there have been any changes one way or another, and the billing adjusted accordingly. Jones added this won’t help the cost of electricity, but should help those on a fixed income.

There were some in the audience who claimed this measure won’t really help because of the high bills people have. Jones again pointed out, nothing would change as far as the cost of kilowatt hours, but it will help people plan their budget as their bills will be relatively the same from one month to the next, without seasonal peaks and valleys. Jones continued, saying a lot of times the problem isn’t the cost of electricity, but the usage and condition of homes. There are a lot of houses, he said, that need to be better insulated and have improved air conditioning. The city’s ordinance will have to be amended before this can go into effect.

City Attorney Glenn Vasser talked about the Wind Catcher Energy Project. He said the city has been exploring the option of eliminating the provider problem, and hopes there’s a solution soon. This project, though, would bring electricity to Prescott from wind energy created in western Oklahoma and help the city with savings, which, he added, could be substantial – especially if the city isn’t successful in its negotiations with SWEPCO on the pancaking issue.

There would be some immediate savings with this, and the city wouldn’t be out anything financially, though it would be entering another contract with SWEPCO.

Dave Wilson, the attorney representing Prescott in its negotiations with SWEPCO, said Prescott would see savings whether the project goes into service or not, with the savings being retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018. Currently, he said, there are some regulatory issues in OK, but the situation is being fast-tracked where it’s being considered.

The Arkansas Attorney General and Public Service Commission (PSC) have entered into an agreement and want the project to move forward as it would benefit all of Arkansas. The city council, Wilson said, would have to pass a ordinance (which it did) and it would be filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), followed by a 30-day waiting period after the ordinance’s approval.

This plan was initially presented in Nov. 2017, but was delayed because of the federal tax plan. The project, Wilson continued, will affect the formula used in figuring rates. He added Wind Catcher Energy is selling the project to SWEPCO and the Oklahoma PSC.

Councilman Bobby Brown, a member of the utility committee, said the citizens of Prescott would benefit from credits and the savings would be passed on. There will be no extra expense to PWL customers or the city.

Councilman Jerry Hightower said the pancake issue will remain until the negotiations with SWEPCO are concluded and a settlement reached or the city gets out of its current contract.

Wilson pointed out the city’s contract with SWEPCO will expire in 2038, adding wind is cheaper than coal and wind plants exist all over the world.

The savings to customers, it was pointed out, could be as much as 6 percent. The council approved the ordinance which allows the mayor and city clerk to enter into a letter agreement concerning an amended and restated power supply agreement with SWEPCO for the Wind Catcher project. The ordinance does not grant permission or authority to enter into a contract at this time, though.

There were interruptions from the audience during discussion of the issue. Pat Grimes said the council promised to do something about the electric rates in 2013, and here it is 2018 and nothing has been done. The utility rates, she said, are hurting the city as people, especially young people, are leaving.

In other business, the council approved a mowing contract for city properties. Two bids were submitted, one from William Colbert for $290 per mowing, and one from Vernon Hudman of Blevins for $680 per mowing. The council chose to go with Colbert and the low bid.

Jamie Hillery, executive director of the Prescott-Nevada County Chamber of Commerce, asked the council to approve hiring a full-time person for the Chamber. “We need help,” she said, adding the Chamber does a lot of activities that require her to be out of the office, and, as she’s the only one there now, that means the office is closed. She asked for someone to work either three or five days a week to help keep the office open when she has to be out and about.

It was asked if there’s money for such a position, and the council was told there is. The council agreed to allow the position to be advertised as a full-time job with a 7-1 vote. Susie Meeks cast the lone vote against.

Farrah Jones, when it came time for comments from the public, said she owns a beauty shop on Elm Street, but decided to turn it into an event center. The intent, she said, is for the property to be used for events such as anniversaries or birthday parties, not a party house. While the building isn’t officially ready to be opened, Jones said she has rented it out because the bills keep coming in and she’s taking from her other business and household to pay them.

There was an incident on Friday, Feb. 16, where shots were fired and the Prescott Police responded. She told the council she feels bad about what happened, but wants to see Prescott improve and has decided not to rent the building out until it’s done.

Judy Duke, curator for the Prescott-Nevada County Depot and Museum, reminded the council about Friday’s acquisition ceremony at First Baptist Church at 2 p.m.

Brown brought up the issue of the city’s hiring procedures, and how department heads are hired. She suggested a committee be created to develop hiring policies for the city to follow. The city does have a personnel policy manual for those who are hired, but nothing’s in place as far as hiring is concerned. Brown, Tommy Poole and Hightower agreed to be on the committee and report back to the council with their findings and recommendations.