AEP electric savings at new high school would be offset by cheaper BTES Internet, director says

Rick Wagner • Updated Oct 11, 2017 at 12:31 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — AEP (American Electric Power) in a recent legal filing said it could save Sullivan County Schools about $60,000 a year in electricity costs if it serves the new high school site. However, the head of the school system said when Internet service is factored in, the power savings would be a wash because of cheaper Internet available if rival Bristol Tennessee Essential Services provides power to the new school. 

Either way, even if a final power verdict remains in limbo, plans are for the school near Lynn Road, off Exit 63 of Interstate 81, to open in the fall of 2020. That’s because the matter of which electricity provider will serve the site, BTES or Kingsport Power Co. doing business as AEP, could very well be decided after the school opens for business, Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said during a break in a Board of Education retreat Tuesday morning.

In the afternoon, the BOE took a whirlwind tour of the properties where the new high school and middle school will be built along Weaver Pike near Harrington Hollow Road. View the photo gallery:

During the high school site trip, BOE members toured an old white farmhouse the system owns along Henry Harr Road, where they found an 1890s textbook and a leaning kitchen floor with a hole in it.


At the middle school site, which has barns and panoramic views of Holston Mountain.


The high school site also includes a barn and four-car garage, and both properties feature wooded areas. Rafalowski said plans for the house are unknown, although school board members noted termite damage in sections of the structure. Board member Jane Thomas said the original part of the house could date to the mid- to late-1800s. 

As for the power fight, Rafalowski said that the school system does not plan to intervene in the case before the Public Utilities Commission in Nashville, which is set to hear a request from AEP Oct. 23. However, Rafalowski said school officials have come to realize that is just the beginning of the legal fight to determine which power company serves the $60 million, 1,700-student school, which has yet to be named.

The BOE last month went on record officially seeking services for both new schools from BTES, even though AEP argues that BTES is outside its agreed-to 1989 boundary in putting a power line over Interstate 81 at about mile marker 64. The line ends on a pole with a transformer next to the new high school site. BTES has filed a motion in Sullivan County Circuit Court seeking a condemnation order and declaratory judgment to provide service to the school.

AEP filed the $60,000 cost savings estimate recently, but Rafalowski said that cheaper Internet access from BTES would likely offset all the savings AEP projects for electricity. Charter Communications otherwise likely would provide Internet if AEP provides power since AEP is not in the Internet business.

In addition, Rafalowski said there is value to the free service BTES provides of carrying football games from schools in its service area on its cable service. The school system also has cited a lack of teacher grant opportunities from AEP in Tenenssee and difficulty in dealing with AEP over power outages and other issues, although Rafalowski declined to comment further on those Tuesday.

AEP officials have since said the grants are available and said they work to respond to service issues quickly.

Other than the electricity issue, which isn’t an issue at the East Middle site to be served unopposed by BTES, BOE Chairman Michael Hughes said both sites have plenty of room and are better than he initially thought they were.

“I think that they’re awewsome. I don’t think that you can accurately describe them to anybody,” Hughes said after the tour. “I don’t think you can describe them. You have to see them yourself.”

The public will get to do just that at the middle school site, where a tentative groundbreaking is set for noon on Nov. 10. The high school groundbreaking will be a few months later, Hughes said.