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SEC president questioned

Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC) President and CEO Jeff Edwards addressed the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors Monday, April 12, detailing how the cooperative handled the February ice storm while being faced with some tough questions by one supervisor.

Jeff Edwards

Edwards told supervisors that the Valentine weekend storm was an ice and tree event for the company, that the cooperative never ran out of supplies as some had said, and that he was expecting a release of the State Corporation Commission’s (SCC) review of the handling of the ice storm that left thousands in the company’s 18-county service area without power, some for as long as two weeks.

Supervisor Donna Fore, who was emotional at times in speaking of how citizens had to endure cold temperatures and no electricity for 13-plus days, questioned Edwards on his salary, if employees were laid off or fired prior to the event and why it took so long to see any utility trucks in the area.

“When were the first trucks rolling to respond?” Fore asked, “Because I drove out the next day in my own personal vehicle to see what was going on…and I didn’t see any Southside trucks. Several days went by, and I did begin to see them. In fact, I saw most of them getting stuck, unfortunately, because of the weather So, when were the first crews rolling and responding and repairing? When was that date?”

Edwards told Fore that 11 p.m. on February 12 was the first reported outage of the icing event.

Donna Fore

According to Edwards, at all times during the storm, the full operations crew was fully committed to outage restoration as quickly and safely as possible.

In response to the weather forecast, Edwards said SEC strategically pre-staged significant amounts of materials and personnel to be best prepared to restore power.

“Our crews were active available and staged and ready at that point,” Edwards said, “They were all in the office the next morning, roughly at 6 a.m., and if you remember that Saturday, it took throughout the day for things to just fall apart as the ice continued throughout the day, Saturday. So, our crews were there and available. They were working. They were working in those conditions. There was a point during the day on that Saturday that it became unsafe for our personnel to be in the field and our personal brought back into the offices to wait and then they were back in the field before light the next day.”

Fore then questioned Edwards’ salary.

“There is a perception by the public that the CEO has a very inflated salary, and it upsets me because we live in a very poor county, you know, a lot of people were without power for over two weeks,” Fore said. “So, I want that question addressed.”

I’ll be happy to address that, said Edwards, “We serve more than just Charlotte County. We are an 18-county electric cooperative. We’re a $386 million company, we’re an extremely complex business.”

Edward said every position in the cooperative is reviewed and that his salary was in the range that his board determined.

Fore also brought up the question that there had been some allegations that SEC had either laid off or fired several employees, and that could have been one reason the cooperative was short on manpower during the ice storm.

Edwards maintained that the ice storm was of a historical nature and the worst the SEC area had seen since 1937. He said the company has maintained 140 employees for the past 14 years.

Edwards told the supervisors that the ice storm was a bullseye for SEC’s service area, with some areas receiving close to an inch of ice.

“This was an ice and tree event,” Edward said. “The thing I can’t design for is trees. The poles and wires are not designed for that kind of shock load that came down.”

Edwards said SEC has a lot of trees that line their right-of-way and maintaining that right-of-way is the largest maintenance line item in the system’s budget.

“We have been asked why Mecklenburg and Dominion where able to restore power to its customers so quickly, and that is because the magnitude and ice that came down into our service area were not the same,” he said

Edwards said that a report of storm coverage was submitted to the SCC on April 2, and several areas in the county have been looked at by the commission.

Edwards said he expects the report back from SCC soon. The report will be made public.