Smithville Electric System has issued a written statement on its plans and reasons for building a new substation on South College Street.
Last Monday, the Smithville Board of Mayor and Aldermen gave their blessing for the project by voting 3-1 to overturn a decision by the Smithville Planning Commission to disapprove SES’s plans for the substation at the proposed location.
The statement, signed by Interim Manager Richie Knowles of Smithville Electric System, is as follows:
“Smithville Electric System has been a vital part of the City of Smithville since 1969. The City of Smithville issued Utility Service Bonds to purchase the electric system from McMinnville Electric and formed Smithville Electric System. The city appointed an electric utility board to rule and govern entirely over the Electric Department. Being an entity of the city, however, a separate organization with its own power board to make executive decisions for the utility. The sole existence of Smithville Electric System is to provide safe, reliable electricity at the lowest possible cost to the citizens of Smithville. That has been our goal from the beginning and we will continue to improve the system for the betterment of the city”.
“Smithville Electric System only has one substation to provide power to the city of Smithville. That makes us vulnerable to city wide outages due to weather and also when an upgrade is needed. We began upgrading the current substation located on West Main Street approximately 3 years ago. Anytime you are replacing substation equipment, you have to take an outage to be able to safely do the work needed. In our case, this means a city wide power outage, because we do not have an alternate source for electricity. This is part of the reason for the need of a second substation. Taking a city wide outage is very expensive for everyone involved. A planned outage cost our industries alone approximately $200,000.00 an hour. The cost goes up drastically after the first and second hour. Most of our industries are on just in time delivery, which means if they don’t get the product delivered on time, they are penalized severely. When planning the upgrade for the West Main Street Substation, we knew that we would have to take 3-4, possibly 5 city wide power outages. We took the first two to begin the process and then discovered that one of the outages had to be 6-7 hours long. That is when we decided that we could not do this to our citizens and our industries. It would cost our industry more than two million dollars total. Our goal is to help bring industries to our town not to drive them away. We decided the only way to avoid this expense was to go ahead and build the second substation that we had been talking about for 15 years or longer”.
“We contacted TVA and asked them if they would approve a second substation for Smithville. You don’t just build a substation without a need or approval from TVA. TVA approved the second substation for reliability purposes. We then actively began to search for a piece of property that would meet the requirements for our substation. The second substation needed to be as far away as possible from the West Main Street substation. If a tornado comes through town and damaged one place maybe the other would be ok and we would be able to continue providing power to the city. So location was the big factor. The land needed to be as close to a TVA transmission line as possible. If you have to run transmission lines across property lines, it takes forever and is very costly. Last but not least, the position of the substation had to be the least obtrusive to the neighborhood. With these three things in mind, we narrowed the search for property down to three sites. We asked TVA to send their engineers to evaluate the property and see which one would be the best location. TVA and our engineers both agreed that the property located at 1233 South College Street was the ideal location. The property was located directly under the TVA transmission lines. We could also put the substation toward the rear of the property instead of out on the street in direct view of the surrounding houses. The property was on the side of the street which allows us to connect the power back to the entire city. There is a line of trees on the South and West side and some trees on the North side of the property which would mostly hide the substation from the view of the neighbors. In TVA’s opinion and ours this property was the ideal location for the least impact to the neighborhood”.
“We signed an agreement on the property in June of 2015, stating that we would purchase the property upon approval from the city for the use of a substation. The mayor contacted the city planner and he told them that substations are allowed in any zoning areas of the city and that the site was approved for a substation. The city informed us that we could use the property for a substation and we could get started on the project. We then purchased the property and began the design of the substation. We were told that we did not need to go before the planning commission because substations are allowed in all zonings. We submitted our plans to TDEC and began clearing the property in the fall of 2015 to allow us to put the substation as far away from the public view as possible. Later the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) informed us that there was a wetland and we had to go through the delineation process. We followed TDEC’s suggestion and moved the substation forward out of the wetland. We had to agree to replenish the wetland this fall with native trees to the location. We met all of TDEC’s requirements and they gave us the permit to proceed”.
“So with the city’s permission and TDEC’s approval we proceeded with the project. We took bids on the equipment needed and signed almost two million dollars in purchase orders. In January of 2016, well after the project began, we were made aware that 3 of the neighbors had decided they didn’t want the substation there and began voicing their disapproval. We were then told that there was a statute that required utilities to take improvements before the planning commission. We took our plans to the planning commission and Attorney Sarah Cripps told them that Mr. (Joe) Rice, Mr. (W.C) Braswell and Mr. and Mrs. (Gordon) Murphy would be impacted by this location. The planning commission asked if they had done any studies to see what the value of the proposed damages would be and she said that they had not. A motion was made to reject the plans. City attorney, Vester Parsley told the planning commission that if they voted to reject the plans that the Smithville Electric Power board could vote to override their decision since the power board was the sole governing body of the utility. The planning commission then voted to reject the plans based on they did not have enough information, knowing that the decision would go back to the Smithville Electric Power board to decide. City planner Tommy Lee agreed with Attorney Parsley”.
“Our board took a vote to continue with the construction since we had already committed to almost two million dollars in expense”.
“We were only doing what we had been advised by the city to do. Attorney Cripps filed a suit saying our board did not have the authority to override the planning commission’s decision. The judge agreed; he stated that we had to go before the city board of Mayor and Aldermen for approval for the site. He also stated that we did not have to stop construction. The opposition to the substation had already voiced their opinions at a planning meeting and in court. They had had almost a year to make their disapproval known to the alderman. On Monday September 19th, 2016 the city called a special meeting to vote on the use of the property. Most of the Aldermen had already done their homework and knew that Smithville Electric had only proceeded with this project with prior approval from the city officials. If they voted no, they would be voting against what the city planner, mayor and city lawyer had already advised us to do. Some people have disagreed with the Mayor’s decision not to let the crowd speak at the special called meeting, but they have been opposing this for quite some time and their voice was heard by all. The Aldermen voted 3-1 to override the planning commission’s decision and allow us to build the substation at the proposed site. This was a vote for the future of our city. The Aldermen understand their job that they were elected to do. They have to make the best decisions for the entire city, not just a few individuals, even though sometimes it is not the popular thing to do. Some of the Aldermen had already asked for the facts for the entire process and cast their votes based on the facts, not the rumors”.
“The board and the employees of Smithville Electric System are proud of the service that we provide to the citizens and the city of Smithville. It is never our intent to cause anyone harm in anything that we do. We exist today to provide the best possible service to our city at the lowest possible price. We will continue to serve all of our customers with the same dedication and conviction that we have had since 1969. We appreciate everyone’s understanding and support as we continue to provide safe and reliable electricity to our customers”.