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Power suppliers disagree over which utility has right to serve new high school

Hank Hayes • Updated Sep 1, 2017 at 9:13 AM

KINGSPORT — A dispute has emerged between two power suppliers over which utility will provide electricity to the new Sullivan County consolidated high school.

Kingsport Power, doing business as AEP Appalachian Power (AEP), has filed a petition with the Tennessee Public Utility Commission (TPUC) seeking resolution of a boundary dispute brought about by placement of electric power distribution facilities by Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES) on property intended for the new high school.

AEP, in a prepared release, said the school will be built on property that was designated by state statute in 1989 as part of the service area of Kingsport Power. An agreement regarding utility service area boundaries was signed that year by both Kingsport/AEP Appalachian and BTES, according to AEP.

“We have the legal right — and the obligation — under Tennessee statute and our long-time Sullivan County franchise to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective service for Sullivan County residents and future students in this new education facility,” said Andy Shaffron, the company’s Kingsport district manager. “We are committed to doing so. We had hoped to resolve the issue of BTES’ encroachment without having to take this step involving state commissioners. Despite numerous conversations and meetings with representatives and attorneys of the entities involved, no resolution has been reached, and BTES has not removed or expressed intentions to remove its recently-built facilities from our service area in Sullivan County.”

In a response, BTES said it believes the school property is within an area that it has a right to serve.

“We pride ourselves on being the local provider for our community. This area is outside of Kingsport Power’s service area because Kingsport Power has never served the precise parcel of property upon which the school buildings will be located,” said BTES CEO Mike Browder. “Based on how the law is written, it is our understanding that we have the right to serve this property. Our plan is to continue our partnership with Sullivan County Schools with the addition of the new high school.”

In addition to providing electric service, BTES said it provides at least a gigabit of Internet service to every school in its service area including many schools and facilities within the Sullivan County school system.

“By having BTES as the school’s service provider, it opens the door to many other possibilities,” said Browder. “This includes airing some of their football games live on BTES Power 7 and highlighting the school, students and academics on other programs aired on the channel.”

AEP reported a BTES service distribution pole was placed on the proposed school property within the past 60 days. AEP said it has been providing service to the property sold to Sullivan County for the new school since before the 1989 statute was enacted, through easements on the property, and as part of the Sullivan County franchise agreement.

The company has asked the TPUC to establish a “contested case” and to resolve the service boundary issue in AEP Appalachian Power’s favor.

“The attorneys are dealing with the conflict between the two utilities right now,” said Sullivan County Board of Education Vice Chairman Randall Hughes of Indian Springs. He said it is his understanding that the site of Exit 63 off Interstate 81 is near the service boundary line between the two utilities. BTES serves Sullivan Central High School, which is about three miles away off Exit 66.

Staff Writer Rick Wagner contributed to this report.

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