City negotiates with Duke on service, trees

Duke Energy was the prevailing topic of conversation at the Winter Garden City Commission meeting Thursday, May 11.

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Duke Energy was the prevailing topic of conversation at the Winter Garden City Commission meeting Thursday, May 11. 

The commission discussed the first reading of the ordinance at the Thursday, April 27, meeting, where it was approved 4-1, with Commissioner Ron Mueller opposing. 

Marc Hutchinson, senior business analyst, said the new agreement would run for 10 years and replace the current 30-year agreement, which expired in December. 

“(The ordinance) essentially grants Duke Energy the … continued permission and authorization to use and occupy the right-of-way for the intentional purposes of operating, maintaining and distributing electric services to citizens of Winter Garden,” he said at the April meeting.

The franchise fee will remain at 6%.


Mueller voiced his concerns at the first meeting stating the city had some “less-than-spectacular service during the storm.”

“We also saw some areas where we expected redundant power systems to be in place, and we found out that not only were those redundant systems not in place, but to do so would have been a Herculean effort that would have taken several more days beyond the time it would have taken to repair the current system,” he said at the April meeting. “There’s some things in there that I would like to … go back and continue to have those discussions and say, ‘How can we improve the quality of service — especially during a critical time with the storms? What can we do to navigate burying power lines as we go forward and general other service level agreements?’”

Mueller again voiced concerns after the second reading of the ordinance, mentioning the butchering of trees he had recently seen. 

Mayor John Rees inquired on where the city was at in terms of Duke allowing the city to trim its own trees at major points in the area. 

“That’s still the forefront of the conversation we’re having with them,” City Manager Jon C. Williams said. “It’s a little out of the norm for them, so we’re working with them … to understand the concept and they’re open to discussion.” 

The second reading passed 4-1, with Mueller dissenting. 

“We do appreciate you all working with the city, and we understand, really, both sides,” Rees said. “It’s just we’re defending our side — and you all obviously have a job to do there — but the two main issues are obviously the trees (and the service), and we want both. We want the trees left alone, and we don’t want to be out of service.”

During his time to speak, Williams also introduced a proposed memorandum of understanding with Duke.

“One of the things that we talked about at the last meeting and we focused on is improving customer service from Duke after the hurricanes and responsiveness, so as a result of that and the effort that they have put forward, we felt like it would be good to kind of memorialize that in the form of a memorandum of understanding,” he said. 

According to the slideshow Williams presented, the memorandum focuses on safeguarding tree aesthetics and service reliability. Within the memorandum, the city will define roles and responsibilities for aspects such as tree trimming management, under-grounding of distribution lines and other areas of mutual fiduciary interest. 

As agreed upon in the commitment, Williams said Duke recognizes the city’s fiduciary role to protect heritage trees, understands and supports the city’s desire to go beyond energy industry standards for tree trimming; will proactively plan and collaborate 60 days prior to all tree trimming; and maintains the “right tree, right place” philosophy in community landscape planning. 

In addition, Duke will host meetings to target long-term under-grounding solutions to protect trees and improve reliability of service, timely provide cost-saving credit estimates for undergrounding projects, provide early notice of planned line hardening work to discuss under-grounding options, and partner on easement acquisition, residential conversion for overhead to underground conversion and other mutually beneficial interests. 

The commission approved the memorandum unanimously. 



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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