After debate, council OKs electric options

By on June 15, 2011

By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

With a unanimous vote, Ephrata Borough Council approved a resolution which would authorize acting borough manager Bob Thompson to execute a power sales contract with American Municipal Power (AMP), but not before some debate.

The deal would mean the borough would subscribe to up to 3.9 megawatts of energy in the Freemont Energy Center.

The debate was sparked by comments from resident Harry Lowe.

"I am opposed to this measure," said Lowe. "You should not be using my tax dollars and/or the profits from a business that I am a part owner of since I am a rate payer for this. This is a risky venture done with other people’s money."

Lowe asserted that borough electric customers were paying about 20 percent more than neighboring subscribers to PP&L, a point which Municipal Enterprises chair Dale Hertzog questioned. Hertzog asked Lowe the source of his data to back up his assertion and asked that Lowe share that data because it ran counter to his understanding of the current competitiveness of borough electric rates.

Lowe, who explained that while he is an employee of PP&L, he appeared before borough council in the interest as a borough electric subscriber. He said he had calculated the borough’s cost per kilowatt hour versus the PP&L rate charged to his daughter in an adjoining community. He agreed to share his findings with Hertzog.

Lowe also questioned whether the borough and the other 34 municipalities working with AMP Ohio truly had the authority to take profits from rate payers to enter into such agreements.

Council president Anthony Kilkuskie explained that it was an historic precedent dating back to the time when the borough owned and operated its own electric power plants within borough limits. He noted that once the borough no longer operated its local plants, the state grandfathered their ongoing electric power sales in under a much less regulated environment.

Hertzog added that without recent legislation championed by state Sen. Mike Brubaker municipalities like Ephrata would not have been able to enter into such agreements.

"Like Mr. Lowe brought up," said Hertzog, "there is some risk with this move. We are obligated to debt service for 30 years. We are obligated to this debt service however on the positive side we are looking to get the cost reductions associated with this project."

With the Freemont project nearly complete and scheduled to go on line in January 2012, Hertzog equated the borough’s interest in the project with cutting out the middle man.

"We don’t understand all the workings of the federal government but we do need to respond to the realities that are out there," Hertzog commented. "The feds are looking to shut down the coal fired plants. Considering this and that this is a natural gas powered plant and that rates are going to go up this is a good alternative. This is a good risk."

The goal of the resolution would be to enable the borough to better control power costs over the course of the project’s 35-year life span, and hedge against some of the rate spikes seen over the past several years.

Officials also hope that by diversifying the borough’s portfolio of power generation sources, it further enables them to take pro-active measures aimed at rate stabilization over the longer term.

Among council members, it was George DiIlio who challenged others to continue pursuing all measures to achieve this end.

"I thought about this long and hard and there is an awful lot of info last week," stated DiIlio. "If I vote in the affirmative it is not with total joy that I do so, but I would also like to see this piggy-back an overall strategy in the borough to incorporate solar and wind. On the other hand, if I say no we may miss this opportunity. I don’t want to miss an opportunity, but I am concerned about a plant which was started 10 years ago."

DiIlio also conceded that he understood engineering had gone over the project and made sure everything was up-to-date and as energy efficient as possible, despite the long construction period.

Kilkuskie added his thoughts on the move.

"Right now gas is a good step," Kilkuskie said."It is a lot better than coal, wind and solar. The side benefit is that this is going constantly, whereas if the wind stops or we have a cloudy day those options are less attractive."

In the end the measure passed by a unanimous vote.

? In other borough business, council unanimously passed a ordinance which would cover specific special exception standards to regulate the enclosure of porches that are located in a required yard area.

Key provisions of the new ordinance help to assure properties would retain the look of being a porch. It calls for materials to be recessed or off-set behind the outermost portions of the existing porch structure in such a manner as to retain ornate structural elements and railings and to maintain the open character of the porch.

And the enclosed porch would need to be constructed in such a manner that it would appear to remain a porch, not an enclosed room. Most important, the enclosure would be required to be compatible with the character of the immediate neighborhood.

? At the suggestion of Highway Committee chair Bob Good, an ordinance making no parking restrictions along a section of North Oak Street from West Main Street to Broad Street permanent was approved. This comes after a 90-day trial run with those restrictions in place.

? Council approved an open house to be held by the Pioneer Fire Company June 28 for the public to see equipment and demonstrations. The open house will run from 6:30 to 9 p.m. as a fundraising event. With borough approval, State Street would be closed from Franklin Street to Fulton Street from 5:45 until 9:15 p.m. in order to facilitate the demonstrations.

? Councilman DiIlio asked acting borough manager to look into any existing borough ordinances regulating charity donation boxes. He cited concerns about who may place them, where and how.

"We can’t prohibit these, but I think we should look at setting some guidelines," explained DiIlio. "They can get out of control, be an eyesore and even become an accessory structure. I would like to see something on the books which gives the borough better control over who, where and what may be placed."

Ephrata police chief William Harvey agreed that such collection boxes to create a patrol concern. He explained that they tend to draw "Dumpster divers" who will remove donated items for a variety of reasons. He added that since often those placing the boxes are church-based non-profit organizations with little interest in prosecuting those misusing the boxes, enforcement can often be a challenge.

Thompson agreed to further explore the issue and report back. More BOROUGH, page A7

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