A Day of Futility
No settlement, just lawyers talking at PMPA board meeting.
Board members of PMPA, including Clinton’s Mayor Bob McLean and City Manager Bill Ed Cannon, spent a frustrating three hours Thursday not coming to an agreement that could solve litigation among 8 of the 10 cities represented on the board.
They heard a presentation about the Upstate Alliance, and received updates about information technology and legislative matters. But it was clear their minds were somewhere else.
That “somewhere else” was agenda item five. After a brief delay waiting for an attorney stuck in I-26 traffic, the board commenced its closed session discussion about legal matters and contracts. They had talked about the same thing during a similar “executive session” as part of a board retreat Oct. 3 in Flat Rock, N.C.
A majority of the board allowed the member-cities’ attorneys to remain in Thursday’s closed session. The board talked for an hour, with Board Chairman Joel Ledbetter setting a ground rule for the attorneys’ involvement in the members’ discussion.
McLean asked for an amended motion when Ledbetter called for and received a motion to allow the attorneys to remain in the board room. McLean said the board members could have a more frank discussion of PMPA legal issues if attorneys were not present. A majority of the board disagreed.
After an hour, the board paused for lunch. The attorneys went into a conference room. As lunch ended and conversation continued, Ledbetter tried to hurry the attorneys along. Just after 1 p.m. - the meeting start time was 10 a.m. - Ledbetter called the board back into closed session, and the meeting was adjourned.
Even after adjournment, few people left the Greer headquarters of PMPA (Piedmont Municipal Power Agency). Representatives for Clinton, Union, Rock Hill and Greer met with their attorneys in the conference room. Representatives for Laurens, Newberry, Easley and Gaffney met with their attorneys in an office (Westminster and Abbeville are not involved in this litigation issue).
At issue is this question - should Rock Hill and Greer get a break on the electrical rate charged to the cities because, these cities claim, they have been paying for many years more than their fair share of PMPA’s operating cost.
Clinton and Union have joined Rock Hill’s and Greer’s side. One scenario shown to the board based on “the Rock Hill plan” would raise Clinton’s cost of electricity by 30%. In response, the City of Clinton has said its electric rates are stable.
Newberry and the others have alleged in litigation that to get Clinton and Union on their side, Rock Hill and Greer promised to buy their excess power. In a response filing, PMPA has said these kinds of “side agreements” constitute three violations within the two agreements that form the electricity buying and selling agency, which gets power from the Catawba Nuclear Reactor.
The agency has been a power-supplier for 39 years.
Rock Hill and Greer have threatened to sue the agency if their demand for a more advantageous electric rate is not approved by the full 10 member-cities board.
The way the rate structure voting is set up, Rock Hill’s vote carries more weight than any other board member, but not enough to carry a vote by itself. Therefore, Rock Hill needs other member-cities on its side.
Rock Hill, Greer, Clinton and Union have filed litigation responses that claim South Carolina courts do not have jurisdiction in this matter, and deny any wrong-doing.
Newberry, Laurens, Easley and Gaffney have filed a lawsuit and affidavits - one from USC Law Professor-Emeritus Dr. Gregory Adams - that support SC courts jurisdiction and claim illegal “side agreements” by Rock Hill, Greer, Clinton and Union.
The “side agreements” would have to be made public if the lawsuit is allowed to go forward to the discovery phase, Dr. Adams‘ affidavit says.
The lawsuit appears to be headed for civil court-mandated arbitration after the first of the year. The issue matters to Clinton because PMPA’s rate to the city is a major driver in what the city charges its residential electrical customers. Many have complained for three years now that the residential rate is among the highest in the state; some people in local real estate say there is much more demand now for houses outside, rather than inside, the Clinton city limits.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the PMPA board will be Thursday, Nov. 21. The Chronicle has been extensively covering this issue since June. Just last week, Laurens CPW took initial steps to withdraw from the PMPA supplemental power agreement in 2029, if certain conditions arise. Laurens City Council was informed of the potential move in an Oct. 15 closed session discussion - the city must give a 10-year notice of its intention to withdraw.