BY SARAH GREGORY
Approval of a vehicle replacement schedule that will allow the Greeneville Light & Power System (GL&PS) to purchase new trucks from a local dealer and request bids for specialized equipment was the primary action of the utility's Board of Directors in their meeting on Friday.
The board also heard a brief update concerning progress toward securing a contract to provide power to US Nitrogen, the new industry expected to begin operations in Greene County in early 2014.
VEHICLE SCHEDULE OK'D
The board reviewed and voted to accept a proposed vehicle replacement plan.
The plan includes eight vehicles -- six smaller vehicles that can be purchased from a local auto dealer and two more costly, specialized pieces of equipment.
The six smaller vehicles will come at a combined cost of $140,750.
Because the Ford Motor Company out-bid General Motors to provide vehicles to the state's fleet, the vehicles will be purchased from the local Ford dealership, Gateway Ford.
The utility will also begin accepting bids to replace the currently 10-year-old high-line bucket truck with a new one that is capable of reaching the utility's highest power lines.
Once bids are received and approved, it could take as long as a year to receive the truck, because it would be custom-built to GL&PS specifications.
Carroll says he estimates that vehicle to cost approximately $250,000.
Bids will also be accepted for a new piece of equipment the utility has never before owned.
Dubbed "the backyard crawler," by Carroll, the vehicle moves on tracks and retracts to a narrow 36-inch width to allow access to confined spaces for installation of poles.
Once in place, the "backyard crawler" widens and supports itself as it lifts into place the utility's 50-to-55-foot poles -- which weigh from 800 to 1,000 pounds each..
"It's an impressive piece of equipment," said Carroll, noting that its addition will help GL&PS crews do their work "better, faster, and safer."
It's estimated that the equipment will cost approximately $130,000.
Chuck Bowlin, GL&PS Superintendent of Engineering and Operations, said the "crawler" will make easier access to certain areas -- such as gated or fenced areas not accessible by the utility's full-sized trucks.
He added that the equipment will allow crews to work in wet or frozen areas where standard trucks cannot operate.
"We've found lots of opportunities that we could've used this over the last couple of years," noted Carroll.
Bowlin added that the utility has had to rent this type of equipment in the past. He also reported that his crews estimate they would likely use it multiple times each week if it was added to the vehicle fleet.
"It looks like something on the moon," quipped board member Sarah E.T. Webster, commenting on the unusual appearance of the apparatus, which must be transported via trailer.
"It does! It is a really cool-looking piece of equipment," agreed Carroll, commenting that the equipment can also be operated via remote control.
"If we get it, can we put it in the Christmas parade?" Webster teased. "Just think of how fascinated people would be to see that thing coming down the street," she said to laughter from the board.
Once bids are received, the board will consider approving purchase of the "backyard crawler" and the new high-line truck at a later meeting.
US NITROGEN UPDATE
Board members heard a brief update concerning contract negotiations with US Nitrogen.
"We have nothing to show you, but we did have an excellent conference call with US Nitrogen and TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] representatives about what could and could not be done with the contract," Carroll said.
The process has been held up over the last several months as contract language initially provided by the company did not line up with language in the utility's standardized contract, as required by TVA and regulated by the U.S. Congress.
Carroll said that, thanks to the conversation, US Nitrogen now understands why some unspecified requests in its proposed contract could not be granted.
"When dealing with the Tennesse Valley [Authority], you have to do business differently," he said.
Carroll said the contract stipulations were "explained very well by the TVA people. I could not have asked for that conversation to have gone any better."
He said that now "the ball is in US Nitrogen's court. They are looking at the standard contract. They have one or two 'wishlist' items that TVA says might be considered."
Progress toward a finalized contract is being made, according to Carroll.
"It's rolling. I just don't have anything [in the form of a finalized contract] to show you yet," he said to board members.
POLICY MANUAL UPDATES
Carroll gave board members a quick update on progress toward updating the utility's policy manual.
Board members were given a draft copy to take and review.
Carroll asked that board members assist in policy revisions related to line extensions -- which deal with charges for new facilities -- and deposit policies for commercial customers.
Action on the updated policy manual is expected in the coming months.
Paige Mengel, GL&PS Controller, gave a financial report for the month of January.
Mengel reported total January revenues of $9,692,158. Of that amount, $7,837,283 was for purchased power -- which is payable to TVA. That left a gross margin of $1,854,876.
Mengel noted that that figure slightly exceeded the $1,656,533 that had been forecast for the month. She added that the revenue total was "a lot better than the same month last year."
Year-to-date, the utility has received $58,496,632. Of that amount, $46,998,952 is from purchased power, leaving a gross margin of $11,497,680 for the year so far.
That number also exceeds earlier projections which expected year-to-date gross revenue to be $10,952,294.
Board members agreed to set the next meeting date for Monday, March 25. The meeting will be held at 9 a.m. at the GL&PS building.