Energy proposal spurs Columbiana debate

COLUMBIANA – The city did not voluntarily participate in an energy efficiency program three years ago and should not participate now, Councilman Bryan Blakeman said Tuesday.

Blakeman was one of two who voted against contracting with American Municipal Power for its Efficiency Smart program. James King also opposed.

After the meeting Blakeman said he believes the contract does not make sense and is a waste of money. He compared the program to socialized medicine and said the rebates and savings offered don’t make up for the overall cost.

The city would pay $352,675 over three years on the contract.

Efficiency Smart was launched in 2011 and is focused on providing energy-efficiency and implementation services and participation allows users to be eligible for appliance and other rebates.

Earlier this month council heard from Randy Corbin, AMP assistant vice president of energy policy and sustainability. Corbin said the city could earn a significant amount of grants by renewing for another three years prior to January.

The program has about $18,000 to $25,000 available in grant funding from revenue contribution during the first three years of the program, he said.

If the city chooses to renew residents would be paying slightly less than the .0015 cents per kilowatt hour they paid on the first contract.

Blakeman said the first contract was entered into only because it was facing an Environmental Protection Agency fine for its past purchase of electricity from a Marietta-area power plant that was fined for violating the Clean Air Act.

The 213-megawatt Richard H. Gorsuch coal-fired power plant had a sulfur dioxide emission rate in the highest three percent of coal-fired utility sources in the country, according to the EPA .

The plant was permanently retired by AMP as part of the EPA settlement.

In August 2010 council was faced with a decision to either pay the fine or pay for participation in an energy savings plan. The decision was hard-met, with three in favor and three against. Mayor David Spatholt broke the tie in favor of the savings plan.

Those in favor were Lowell Schloneger, Pat Keylor and Tom Ferguson and those opposed were Bob Bieshelt, Bryan Blakeman and James King.

The EPA fine would not have exceeded $415,000, according to reports.

On Tuesday, council was presented with emergency legislation to renew the energy savings contract, and it died with three in favor and two opposed. Councilman Tom Ferguson was absent.

Councilman Dick McBane said later he favored the plan because it allows the city to purchase power at a lower cost.

“In the past year, the city electric department has had to purchase a portion of our power on the open market. The cost of this power is significantly higher than power from sources where we have long-term contracts or own a portion of the generating facility. The program’s cost to help customers conserve electricity is significantly lower than purchasing power on the open market or building additional generating facilities,” he said.

He went on to say that by reducing the amount of high-cost power purchased on the open market, through conservation, the city reduces the total cost of power purchased and in turn lowers the overall electric rate to consumers.

“The Efficiency Smart program is available to all Columbiana residents to help reduce their electric bills,” he said.

Upon Schloneger’s suggestion a special meeting was set for 7 p.m. Dec. 30 to reconsider the legislation for a second reading.