Court of Appeals upholds Jackson High gym decision

The Georgia Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court ruling granting the city of Jackson the right to provide electricity to the new Jackson High School gym, which opened in 2016.

Nearly four years after a dispute over the right to provide electricity to the new Jackson High School gym began, it appears to be settled.

A three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals last week upheld a Fulton County Superior Court judge’s ruling in Central Georgia Electric Membership Corp’s lawsuit against state regulators, who had granted the city of Jackson the right to serve the gym.

The city of Jackson filed a complaint with the Georgia Public Service Commission in August 2015, while the gym was under construction, asserting the right to serve the new gym under a grandfather clause of the Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act. The act allows electric customers with loads more than 900 kW to choose their service provider when service is first established, while customers with smaller loads must buy power from the provider that is designated to serve their area.

While the Jackson High School campus is inside Central Georgia EMC’s assigned territory, the Butts County school board, when Jackson High was under construction in the 1980s, chose the city of Jackson as its electric provider.

Attorneys for Central Georgia EMC have argued that the gym is an entirely new and separate premises in the EMC’s designated service territory, rather than an expansion of the high school.

Jackson has contended the city has the right to deliver power to the gym because it is part of the same premises as the high school. The Georgia Public Service Commission, in a Sept. 19, 2017, decision, voted 4-1 to uphold a hearing officer’s earlier decision siding with Jackson.

The Fulton County judge later affirmed that PSC decision. “This court finds that the new gym is an expansion of the existing Jackson High School premises, as opposed to a new premises, and accordingly, Jackson has the exclusive right to provide electrical service to the new gym under the ‘grandfather clause’ of the Territorial Act,” Judge Shawn LaGrua wrote in the June 20, 2018, decision.

The Court of Appeals, in an opinion June 25, wrote, “Giving deference to the Commission on its interpretation of the Territorial Act, we agree with the hearing officer and the Commission that one premises can consist of multiple buildings, and that the grandfather clause can protect a new building if the new building is an expansion of existing premises already served by an electric supplier.”

Though Central Georgia EMC has 10 days to appeal the Court of Appeals ruling, President and CEO George Weaver indicated the co-op does not plan to pursue further action.

“We are in receipt of the Georgia Court of Appeals’ ruling. While we are disappointed in the ruling, we respect the decision of the court and do not intend to appeal further,” Weaver said in a statement. “We are concerned that the Butts County School System, and thus the citizens of Butts County, will likely pay a higher cost for electricity as a result of this ruling. We look forward to continued work with the Butts County School System and the city of Jackson as community partners going forward.”

Robert “Buddy” Costley, who until Monday was the superintendent of the Butts County School System, said Friday that school officials were awaiting word on plans from the city on the transfer of electric service to the gym.

“We are relieved that the due process journey between these two important partners of ours is finally resolved. Of course, the taxpayers of Butts County will have higher electricity costs now that the gym will be served by the city, but hopefully over time the city will work to lessen the impact by reducing electricity costs for all in the next five years,” Costley said. “Moving forward, we are hoping that Central Georgia EMC and the city will provide a timeline to the Board of Education soon on when the city plans to hook up power to the gymnasium. Hopefully, the city will hook up in the next few weeks, and we can all just focus on serving our students in Butts County.”

Jackson Mayor Kay Pippin, in a statement, said, “We are thankful to have received a favorable ruling from the Georgia Court of Appeals and look forward to returning the new gym to the rest of the Jackson High School properties we have successfully served since 1988.”

Managing Editor

Michael Davis has been the editor of the Jackson Progress-Argus since 2010. He previously worked as an editor and reporter for the Henry Daily Herald and Clayton News-Daily.

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