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Farm Bureau board member asks Florence County Council for support to oppose electric rate hikes

March 22, 2019

FLORENCE, S.C. – The Florence County Council sympathized with a farmer who asked it to join the Florence County Farm Bureau’s opposition to a proposed increase in electric rates but noted that the county has no authority in the matter.

Anthony Ward, a board member of the bureau, asked the council to support local farmers by sending a letter to Duke Energy President and CEO Lynn J. Good regarding rate increases proposed by Duke Energy’s subsidiary Duke Energy Progress.

“Mr. Ward, we appreciate you appearing this morning on behalf of our area farmers and for the information you have shared with us today,” Council Chairman Waymon Mumford said. “County council full recognizes the benefits we enjoy because of our local farmers and fully support efforts to enhance and sustain our farming industry.”

Mumford also reminded Ward that the council has no authority over Duke Energy or the approval of the rate increases. The decision to approve or disapprove the rate increases will be made by the South Carolina Public Service Commission.

Councilman Mitchell Kirby said he would like to see Mumford and County Administrator K.G. “Rusty” Smith compose and send a letter to Good.

The South Carolina Public Service Commission functions essentially as a court for cases involving utilities and other regulated companies, according to its website. The Public Service Commission has jurisdiction over matters pertaining to the investor owned electric and gas utility companies. It is governed by seven commissioners, one from each of the seven congressional Districts in South Carolina. The commissioner from the seventh Congressional District is G. O’Neal Hamilton from Bennettsville.

Councilman Kent Caudle said that he thought he had just read that the federal government had not allowed aid, later clarified by Vice Chairman Willard Dorriety as Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program funds, to local farmers. He said the funds were instead diverted to Puerto Rico for relief and rebuilding there.

Ward said Caudle was indeed correct in what he read but added that the federal government was continuing to work on legislation to help farmers affected by the natural disasters.

“Personally, I think we should look after our own first but it’s true without farms there’s no food,” Caudle said.

Dorriety noted that the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives had decided to send the money to Puerto Rico. He also noted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had decided to send the funds to Puerto Rico rather than helping her own state, which was affected by wildfires in 2018.

Councilman Jason Springs asked about the scope of the rate increase.

The areas affected would be the areas served by Duke Energy Progress. Duke Energy Progress’s service territory covers approximately 32,000 square miles including northeastern South Carolina, namely the counties of Florence, Darlington, Dillon, Marion, Marlboro, and some of Williamsburg.

Kirby asked about a public hearing scheduled for the community to weigh in on the rate increase.

A public hearing before the Public Service Commission is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 1 in the County Council Chambers (Room 803) of the County Complex.

Ward said some kind of negotiation was needed to protect local farmers.

Kirby also said the council had no authority over the proposed rate increases.

“People need to turn out and make it known how they feel about this,” Kirby said.

Dorriety, a farmer by trade, said Florence County had probably been hit harder than any other county in the state in 2018 because of the two hurricanes and continuous rainfall. He said one could ride around and still see crops in the field that were not harvested because of the weather.

“It’s been the worst year I’ve ever experienced in 41 years of farming,” Dorriety said.

Caudle said that he was instructed “years ago” that farming in Florence County was a $77 million industry. Florence, he added, was the largest agricultural county in the state.

“I don’t know how it ranks now but it’s a serious issue,” Caudle said. “When you get your subsidies cut off from Washington and then your costs increase that’s a double whammy. I’m sure we’ll support anything that we can but like the chairman said we have no jurisdiction over it.”

Springs also noted that the proposed rate increase would not just affect farmers; it would also affect those with a second meter on their property.

If the rate increase were to go into effect, a “typical residential customer using 1,000 kWh” would see an increase of $17.91 per month beginning June 1, another $1.60 per month beginning June 1, 2020, and $1.81 per month on June 1, 2021. The total increase after June 1, 2021, would be $21.32 per month.

Duke Energy Progress has also proposed an increase in its fixed monthly charges from $9.06 per month to $29 per month beginning June 1. This increase is reflected in the total monthly increase of $17.91.

Later Tuesday, after an executive session, the council approved the awarding of up to $400,000 in Economic Development Fund 3 funds pending an equally sized grant from the Northeastern Strategic Alliance for an unspecified economic development project.

The approval was made upon a motion by Springs and a second by Caudle. The council approved the award 8-0.

Councilman Alphonso “Al” Bradley left during the executive session to attend to a personal matter.

In other action Thursday morning, the council:

Approved a proclamation declaring March 2019 as Disabilities Awareness Month in Florence County.Approved a resolution establishing a moratorium on all development permits within the District 3, Phase IV community pending zoning by the council.Approved on third reading an ordinance providing for the creation of a Florence County Unified Fire District Board which will now come into effect on July 1.Approved on second reading an ordinance amending the county’s zoning code regarding billboards.Approved the appointments of five people to serve on county boards and commissions.Approved a memorandum of understanding with the Sardis Baptist Church regarding the use of the church’s athletic field for the Lynches River Youth Baseball League.Awarded a contract for dirt road paving in Council Districts 1, 4, 5, and 6 in the amount of $1.164 million to Palmetto Corporation of Florence.Authorized the hiring of Davis and Floyd for up to $80,000 to provide construction engineering and inspection services on the roads to be paved in Council Districts 1, 4, 5, and 6.Approved a contract with the town of Olanta for the sheriff’s office to provide victim services.Awarded RFP No. 18-18/19 for construction management services to Thompson Turner Construction and authorized County Administrator K.G. “Rusty” Smith to negotiate a contract pending the approval of County Attorney D. Malloy McEachin.Approved the expenditure of up to $17,700 from Council District 3 ($2,000), District 4 ($9,700), 5 ($4,000), and District 7 ($2,000) to assist with renovations at the Savannah Grove Community Four Hall.Approved the expenditure of up to $3,750 to provide five loads of road stone to be used at the new Kingsburg Fire Station No. 3.Approved the expenditure of up to $159,000 for Council District 3 Road Service Maintenance Fees to pay for reclamation with cement on Trotter Road.