LES holds line against squirrels, cold

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Steps toward a better economy, environment and sharing were described by the general manager of Lewisburg Electric Service recently as he agreed there's no end in sight for the utility's battle with squirrels.

"We have not found a way to control those little boogers," LES General Manager Richard Turner said in a Friday afternoon telephone interview from his office on West Ellington Parkway. "There are a lot of squirrels out there."

The furry rodents are frequently blamed for power outages as they either bridge an unwarranted connection, or chew through insulation.

"Heavily insulated wire is expensive," Turner said, seeing that as an alternative to cone-shaped plastic collars placed on power lines to be a barricade against squirrels.

"We've bought cases of those things," he said. "After the sun hits them over a few years, they're useless," become brittle, break and fail to hold squirrels at bay.

Hickory Heights in Lewisburg has an abundance of squirrels because it's blessed with hickory and walnut trees, the source of the favored nourishment of squirrels.

Yet, in the face of the never-ending squirrel skirmishes, Turner reports that "We are talking with some industries that are interested" in electric power for a prospective development in this area where new jobs are sought.

Turner declined to name the prospects, but spoke of rate changes planned by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Early next year, the cost of electricity for major consumers is to increase, he said. Those are typically the industries that use 50 kilowatts of power monthly. Locally, those include CKNA, Pliant Corp., and Walker Die Casting Inc.

The second change will be in April, Turner said.

"We'll offer time-of-use rates," he said.

That will first affect commercial customers.

"During peak hours it would cost more," Turner said. "When demand is normally lower, the price will be lower."

The third change in rates is anticipated in October when the new schedule "puts the rest of the customers on the different rates," he said.

"What they're trying to do is avoid building new power plants," Turner said of TVA directors' motives. "They want to decommission three coal-fired plants."

Power plants generating electricity by burning coal create air pollution. The plants are also old, Turner said.

"They are some of the biggest plants that put out a great deal of pollution," he said. TVA leaders "want to change them over to natural gas."

Turner acknowledged recent developments in mining that have increased the release of natural gas from deep wells thereby increasing supply and making natural gas more economical than it has been in recent years.

Turner was asked about a federal program that matches donations to dollars allocated by Congress to lighten the load on consumers who are having trouble paying their power bills The program is called LIHEAP, or Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Last year, contributions from individuals, institutions, businesses and the local governments in Marshall County were able to maximize the available assistance managed by the South Central Human Resources Agency headquartered in Fayetteville.

"We are doing it," Turner said of LES accessing LIHEAP assistance, but we are using customer donations now."

Generous customers add $1, or other sums of money to their electric bill payment and designate it to be available to help others pay their LES bills.

"We have enough," Turner said, in an apparent comparison to the available subsidy and the need. "We will pay $50 on the bill...

"Some of the industries have been quite nice with big donations" in previous years, he said. Such support hasn't arrived yet this winter, he said, "but I feel like we will (receive that) after the first of the year."

Meanwhile, "Our department is doing all right," Turner said. "We are making ends meet without debt. Our power bill (paid to TVA) is right around $2 million a month. Our outage times for this cold spell have been very short" apparently because of squirrels.