COLUMBIANA - There was no convincing the City Council members who turned out for a special meeting Monday. They already believed in the benefits of the Efficiency Smart program.
Absent were councilmen James King and Bryan Blakeman, who were not so easily swayed two weeks ago when Randy Corbin, American Municipal Power (AMP) assistant vice president of energy policy and sustainability, encouraged the city to continue participation in the program another three years.
The men were not present due to prior commitments. Also absent was Mayor Dave Spatholt, who had to work longer than expected, City Manager Lance Willard said.
Blakeman has said 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.
He also did not agree with the city's participation in the newly established program three years ago. At that time the city opted to participate in order to avoid a fine handed down by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its past purchase of electricity from a Marietta-area power plant that was fined for violating the Clean Air Act.
King and Blakeman also opposed the program then while Councilmen Tom Ferguson and Lowell Schloneger were in favor.
Ferguson said Monday he did feel a bit "hood-winked" by the way the program was originally offered and that deciding between it and an EPA fine left a bad taste in his mouth, but he remains satisfied with his decision and believes the program should continue.
"The data is telling us right now that this is a good program," he said.
Efficiency Smart is offered through AMP and the city is eligible to participate because it purchases its power from AMP, a non-profit supplier of wholesale power to municipalities in Ohio and six other states.
Carl Andre, director of business development for Efficiency Smart, said avoiding the EPA fine was beneficial for the citizens of Columbiana because had they paid the fine, that money would have gone to the federal government while the money put toward the program was reinvested into the community.
"Three years ago this board made a really good decision," he said.
AMP member marketing representative Jay Myers said residential customers would pay an additional $15 to $16 a year on the new three-year contract, which has a lower megawatt hour cost.
The first three-year contract was $1.50 per megawatt hour and the new contract is at $1.40 per megawatt hour. Commercial customers would pay about $700 a year, he said.
Andre said the $1.40 cost goes toward covering Efficiency Smart's 12 to 15 percent administrative costs of fulfilling the AMP Ohio contract.
AMP pays an outside firm to evaluate the program's processes and statistics, he added.
The program also sets energy savings goals and if those are not met participating municipalities are refunded for guaranteed savings not delivered, or the contract is extended to make up for those savings, he noted.
Ferguson expressed some concern over whether residential customers would understand the benefits of the program, which are long-term energy savings through efficiency services and program rebates.
"I want to be clear that the program in the last three years has been a benefit, dollar for dollar for the residents. I think the industrial and commercial (customers) are going to buy into this. This was not a cost, in my opinion, to the community," he said.
Agreeing with Ferguson was Dick McBane, who said sticking with the program will help the city avoid higher power costs on the open market, and those costs would be "rolled" into customer bills should they not participate.
"If we could eliminate purchasing that energy and reducing that cost ... that is the big savings," he said.
Myers said Columbiana's residential customers saved 215 megawatt hours over the last three years while commercial and industrial users saved 279 and 311 megawatt hours.
The city as a whole received just over $3 in benefits for every $1 invested in energy efficiency on the first contract, Andre said.
He also said the savings make up for the cost, and in the long-term actually result in the customer "making money" through avoided costs.
Customers can even receive actual paychecks through the program if they recycle older but still working energy efficient refrigerators. The program pays $50 and will even make sure the refrigerator is hauled away at no charge.
While industrial and commercial customers benefit the most, residential customers still benefit, Andre said.
"Residents are getting the benefit of commercial and industrial customers because that is where a lot of the savings are. We want to push back building new power plants as far as we can, because they are expensive. We want to keep you out of the spot market as much as possible," he said.
The four council members present approved participating in the program, and Dick Simpson and Dan Bekar, who will take council next month, also agreed with decision.
Electric Superintendent Doug Sturgeon said residents would likely pay more than the $16 additional a year if the city did not participate.
He and City Manager Lance Willard said the department is working on getting more LED lighting for the streets to conserve electricity costs. The city has already installed LED lighting on South Main Street.