Friday, September 19 – Proposed Electric Code Change Tabled After Debate

SNOW HILL – A debate over a new definition of a general electrician in Worcester County became heated Tuesday morning, turning into an hour-long argument over training, reduced work opportunities, and safety.

The public hearing on what appeared to be a minor change in the law lasted three times as long as scheduled and generated issues not related to the bill, which seeks to change one definition in Worcester County’s 30-year-old electrical code.

The commissioners voted to table the bill and have opposing sides get together to draft changes in the overall code.

The new definition would have limited general electricians to single-phase residential house wiring of less than 400 amperes and structures with no more than four single-family units. Under the new definition, general electricians would also be limited in work on commercial structures to installing single phase circuits of 100 amperes or less, in an existing building.

Jobs over these regulations would be limited to master electricians.

General electricians are required to work under a master electrician for two years, while aspiring master electricians must work under a master for seven years. General electricians do not handle three-phase power, and the exams for each license differ, according to Ken Lambertson, chair of the Worcester County Electrical Board.

“When you get over a certain size, you really need to know what you’re doing,” said Lambertson. “It’s for safety.”

Worcester County rarely sees projects of that scope, Lambertson acknowledged.

In the past year, the county has seen about 10 permits for 400-plus ampere projects, two for 400 amperes, and one for an 800-ampere poultry house.

“That’s a little high for the usual year. Usually, we don’t see that many,” Lambertson said.

The rationale behind the change, according to the Electrical Board, is the increasing number of large homes with intensive uses being built in the county.

Several general electricians differed with Lambertson.

The difference between 400 amperes and 600 amperes is just 200 amperes, and does not involve three-phase power, Scott Terry said.

The change, Terry said, is one person’s idea.

“It’s like a two-year old with a tantrum. They gave him a lollipop to shut him up,” Terry said.

Changing the definition would take thousands of dollars out of his pocket, Terry said, with some customers preparing to switch to solar power, which requires an upgrade to the electrical system.

“I’m asking you not to take away my ability to earn a living because of one person,” Terry said.

If the commissioners want to change something about the general electrician regulations, they should increase the required training period, he felt.

“Two years in my opinion is not long enough,” Terry said.

Norm Gambrill, a general electrician out of Salisbury who is also licensed in Worcester County, said he has 30 years experience and that master electricians cannot do some of the tasks that general electricians can handle.

“We’ve paid our dues. There’s nothing we can’t do,’ Gambrill said.

When asked why, with his experience, he had not become a master electrician, Gambrill explained that masters work on larger, commercial jobs, which require investment and capital for bonding and the purchase of large amounts of material.

Gambrill floated another theory for the origin of the proposed definition change, saying that with work getting slack, electricians are fighting over jobs.

“Before, this would never be brought up,” Gambrill said. “Now if they can weed somebody out that’s what they want to do.”

“We have here a group of guys who don’t really have anything to do. They’ve decided to make a problem to correct a problem,” general electrician Greg Turner said. “It’s a grab situation. Things are tough right now.”

Worcester County has only seen two harmful incidents involving electricity in years, Turner said, and both involved work done by a master electrician.

“I don’t know what these guys are trying to accomplish,” Turner said.

The bill is not safety-oriented, Turner said. He agreed that general electricians need four years of training, not two.

“If the wheel isn’t broke, why do we want to fix it?” Commissioner Bud Church asked.

“We’re not saying general electricians do not have a certain amount of knowledge,” said Jeff Novak, a member of the electrical board and master electrician. “We’re saying that they’re tested at a certain level.”

Novak said he’d like to see just one license, not two levels.

“I am confused…I don’t know where to go here,” said County Commission President Virgil Shockley.

Commissioner Judy Boggs asked if it would be feasible for the two opposing groups to get together and work out a bill covering the other issues as well.

“It seems to me there’s a bunch of infighting between the masters and the generals. It all comes down to the workload, to who does what,” Commissioner Louise Gulyas said. “I think we should just leave it alone…we’ve killed the horse. We’ve eaten it and we’re digesting it now.”

Commissioner Bobby Cowger said he would like to postpone a decision, while someone mediated the disputes between the electricians. He said he is not ready to make a decision, as there are good points on both sides.

“We need to let the smoke clear,” said Commissioner Bud Church.

“This bill is bad. Do away with it,” Terry said. He added that the commissioners have disagreed with the Worcester County Planning Commission, for example, and voted against that group’s recommendations in the past, so they could vote against the electrical board recom