The Wellington City Council, during its Oct. 15 meeting, voted to deny a rural electric cooperative’s proposal for a franchise agreement with the city in which the coop would supply utilities to territory recently annexed by the city.
The property, annexed in August, is at the southeast corner of U.S. 160 and Seneca Road, lying east of the railroad. This property is platted into two lots - Lot 1, zoned for commercial use and Lot 2, zoned as heavy industrial. Verbio North America Corp. (VNA), a biofuel producer, plans to build on Lot 2, but currently, the entire property is on bare ground with no services.
The property lies entirely within the service territory of the rural utility supplier, Sumner-Cowley Electric Cooperative (SCEC).
In his proposal letter to the mayor and city council, Cletas Rains, CEO of SCEC, wrote, “As I have stated numerous times in the past, Sumner-Cowley Electric has been a taxpaying corporate citizen of Wellington since our inception in 1938. We have chosen Wellington as our home and have strived to be a good citizen and support our community whenever possible.”
The mayor and council members expressed some regret that they could not accommodate SCEC’s request, but agreed with the recommendation of City Manager Shane Shields that the proposal would not be in the city’s best interest and should be denied.
Shields went over his report with the council. Some of the reasons he cited in his determination to deny SCEC’s proposal were:
With the annexation of the property, the city will provide water, sewer and trash service and it would be a public convenience for electric service to also be provided by the city.
The city utility system has its own backup power supply in the gas turbine generator. Both the city and SCEC receive their power supply from Westar. If the city were to lose the Westar power supply, the turbine would be operational within 15 to 20 minutes to restore power to customers. SCEC does not have a backup power supply and would not be able to restore power until the problem was fixed with Westar.
Rates would be cheaper with the city.
Verbio North America President and CEO expressed in an email that he preferred power be served by the City of Wellington’s Utilities Department.
If the city is the supplier, it will have the ability to negotiate the electric service rate with potential customers in developing the property. If the city is not the supplier “it does not have that negotiation ability, which could result in a negative economic impact if a customer would choose not to develop on the site.”
The proposal from SCEC is for the entire city of Wellington and not limited to SCEC territory involved in the annexed property. “Granting the franchise as proposed in its current form, would not be beneficial for the long-term sustainability of the city utility system and, in turn, the benefit of the city as a whole.”
Council member Kelly Hawley said, “I don’t want a franchise city-wide.”
Mayor Shelley Hansel said she felt “a little bit torn,” saying SCEC chooses to have its business in Wellington, but that as mayor, she had to do what is in the best interests of residents.
“I’m not sure there’s a way to make this work between two entities. Somebody’s going to have to be upset,” Hansel said. “I don’t know a way to make everybody come out a winner in this situation.”
Council member Kevin Dodds said, “I can’t in good conscience endorse this in any way. I’m afraid we may run into a situation where we run into a lot of responsibility and little benefit from it.”
Dodds made a motion to deny SCEC supplying electricity to the proposed annexed territory. The council voted in favor of this motion.
In other business:
Lauren Reyes, manager of The Dore, requested an open consumption area for Nov. 3 from noon to 7 p.m. for the location of Washington Avenue from 7th Street to Harvey Avenue. The council approved the request.
The next city council meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28.