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Wal-Mart officials plan to bypass city of Albany utility over denied electric rate cut | POLL

Retailer says it will buy electricity elsewhere after Albany utility says no to price reduction

Site clearance is under way off Gillionville Road on land adjacent to the Waffle House restaurant. The site will house a Wal-Mart-affiliated grocery store and fueling station. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Site clearance is under way off Gillionville Road on land adjacent to the Waffle House restaurant. The site will house a Wal-Mart-affiliated grocery store and fueling station. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — Management of the Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store that will be located at the intersection of Westover and Gillionville roads apparently has no qualms about cutting the city of Albany out of utility services for the 41,000-square-foot grocery store.

WG&L interim General Manager Tom Berry told the utility board at its meeting Thursday morning that Wal-Mart officials had tried to negotiate a cheaper electric rate with the city-run utility and told city officials it would instead get its electric power from Georgia Power when WG&L would not agree to the lower rate.

“We could have offered them any discounted rate we felt comfortable with, but we didn’t think that was fair to Publix and Harveys and all the other supermarkets in the city,” Berry said.

Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, who serves as chair of the utility board, said that while the city welcomes the Walmart grocery store and fueling station, it cannot appear to favor one business over another.

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A 41,000-square-foot grocery store will be built on land at the junction of Westover and Gillionville roads in West Albany. A fueling station is also part of the development. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

“It wouldn’t be right (to offer a discounted rate) when other similar businesses in the city did not get that rate,” Hubbard said.

Site clearing has begun in earnest at the Walmart Neighborhood Market site. Plans for the grocery store, Berry said, show that the outlet will carry a combined electrical load less than 900 kilowatts, the threshold that allows businesses to choose their electric provider. Since the supermarket will be located on property zoned to be serviced by WG&L, any connected load less than 900 kilowatts would automatically make the city utility the electricity provider.

But Berry told the WG&L board that when the city refused to offer the retailer a significant discount on power costs, officials with the company said they would adjust heating at the supermarket from natural gas to electricity. That additional load is expected to push the combined kilowatt level above the 900 threshold and allow Walmart to select any electricty provider that services the region.

“We haven’t seen their formal proposal (with the change to electric heat), and this would not be final until the project was completed,” Berry said. “Of course, we’d look at it, but it appears the additional heating load would push them over the threshold.”

Officials associated with the project would not comment on the electric issue and have generally avoided any specific questions about the project. Subcontractors and consultants associated with the project have referred to a nondisclosure agreement they signed and won’t formally say that the construction is indeed for a Walmart Neighborhood Market. But a number of business owners and outside sources familiar with the project have confirmed that it is a Wal-Mart-owned grocery store and fueling outlet.