By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
The big issue on everyone’s mind at the last meeting of Olive Hill city council was electric bills. Specifically, a fuel cost adjustment for February that more than doubled some bills for the month. But those who hoped for an explanation directly from American Electric Power on the fees were in for a disappointing evening, as the power company apparently chose to back out of the meeting, failing to send a representative to answer questions.
Max Hammond, after announcing an award of nearly $300,000 from two grants secured through FIVCO for pump station upgrades, discussed his reading of the contract the city had with AEP, and how the lack of language related to net metering and solar power generation could serve as an avenue for getting out of the current contract before the May 2025 expiration date.
Net metering is the process of running an electrical meter backwards when power generated by solar cells, or other renewable energy sources, outpaces use and feeds back into the grid. While it doesn’t result in a payment to the person whose home is generating the energy, it can reduce power bills and lead to credits on days when generation outpaces usage.
While council had, in the past, been reticent to act on a net metering ordinance, councilman Eric Rayburn suggested moving forward with a plan to offer it.
“I think we should move forward,” Rayburn said, adding that if AEP could then show the city where their contract specifically prohibits the use of solar cells and net metering, the city could deal with it at that time.
During the open comment period the audience sought greater understanding of the billing process for their electrical bills despite the absence of AEP representatives.
One asked where the fuel adjustment formula used to calculate the costs for February came from. City clerk Chimila Hargett explained that the formula and rate had been approved by a previous city council and mayor in 2013, and were not due to expire until 2025.
It’s a bad deal, the mayor said, and one that is also impacting other communities in the region.
“We’re not the only city being screwed,” Mayor Jerry Callihan said, noting that Vanceburg operates under a similar contract.
Hargett said she did “a rough estimate” and figured the city had a loss of around $184,000 on power costs for the 2022 calendar year.
Callihan said the city had hired to group to work with them, and the city of Vanceburg, to looks for new options – including a new contract with AEP or a move to purchase power from another provider.
Community members speaking to council told stories of individuals taking out loans to pay their utilities, or who spent their entire paycheck on utility bills and letting other debts go unpaid. Others told of individuals who were moving outside of city limits not because of their rent, but because of the high cost of power for anyone purchasing electricity through the city. Some, who had been direct customers of AEP before moving inside city limits, said they appeared to have been paying less per kilowatt hour as AEP customers than the city was paying to purchase the same power, before they resold it.
Another asked if the city would be turning off electricity for non-payment once the weather had warmed up and they were legally allowed to. They noted that many of those struggling to pay their power bills had already exhausted aid available to them through groups like Northeast Kentucky Community Action.
Council ended their discussion of the power issue by noting that Hammond and city attorney Derrick Willis would work together on a net metering ordinance for the next meeting.
In other action council heard from Trane on the water plant upgrades and voted to pay the next disbursement, with Rayburn and councilman Kirk Wilburn voting no, and all other council members voting aye.
Hammond also discussed the city’s share of opioid settlement money, with Hammond asking for – and receiving – half of the city’s expected $8,000 payout for the Pathfinder Initiative, a drug abatement program sponsored through the Galaxy Project that seeks to keep kids off drugs by giving them activities to be involved in instead of just admonishing them to “just say no.”
“We want to instill not only pride in our place… but pride in our children once again,” Hammond said.
After hearing from Hammond and others on the science based program, councilman Chris Bledsoe made a motion to grant the Pathfinder Initiative $4,000 of the city’s approximate $8,000 in opioid settlement funds.
“I think it’s worthy of support,” Bledsoe said, with council agreeing and voting unanimously to grant the request.
Hammond also spoke on behalf of FIVCO, announcing a pair of grants, one for $100,000 and a second for $209,000, to be used for pump stations along Tygart Creek.
Council also heard an update on Logan Middleton’s Eagle Scout project. As part of his project, Middleton raised $1,500 for supplies and did work himself on repairing the amphitheater in Olive Hill’s city park.
Council also heard department reports, and voted to approve bucket brigade “road blocks” for charity donations in the coming year.
Council had 14 apply this year, and with only 12 slots had to refuse some requests. While Rayburn asked about increasing the available days by two, that would require a change to the ordinance, and some bucket brigades needed to be approved prior to the next meeting.
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