Council considers diesel generator to cut electric costs

By on May 8, 2019

Two borough residents urged council to pump the breaks on a plan to significantly cut peak electricity usage costs by adding a diesel generator and diesel fuel storage tank.

The residents spoke at the Ephrata Borough Council meeting Monday, as discussion continued on the plan to lower electrical heating costs by keeping electrical demand on an even plane.

A key component of the plan calls for the installation of a 5,000-gallon storage tank.

The Municipal Enterprises Committee discussed the issue in April — including Chairman Victor Richard, along with members Linda Martin and Thomas Reinhold — after listening to a presentation by Erin Shealy of GDS Associates, the borough’s energy consultant.

The meeting focused on the American Municipal Power (AMP) Pennsylvania Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engine (RICE) peaking Project.

The project, which will be owned and operated by AMP, proposes to install 5,400 kW of diesel generation to reduce the borough’s “coincident peaks” in order to reduce transmission and capacity costs.

The committee is recommending that borough council approve the proposal at the next borough meeting on Monday, May 13. Borough Manager D. Robert Thompson, who said the generators would run about 40 hours per year and save hundreds of thousands of dollars, said the plan is “a responsible alternative to lower heating costs.”

“The generators that are proposed meet or exceed federal guidelines for air quality requirements,” he said.
However, resident Jim Sandoe expressed concern.

“Diesel generators in the borough are not a good idea,” he said. “With this diesel generation project, you should know that 17 carcinogens have been identified in diesel exhaust, plus another handful of harmful substances.

Sandoe urged council needs to re-consider until it can do a study and “bring in the experts first, talk to the American Lung Association.”

Resident John Stewart agreed.

“I’d like to see the engineering report,” Stewart said. “Tier Three Emissions limit the amount of time that diesel can be used….some places vary diesel with natural gas.”

The borough is proposing one diesel engine, and should that fail, there would be no back-up, Stewart added. He asked about considering either natural gas or a battery-powered generator as a back-up.

The diesel generator would be used to offset system demand; running the generator would help to decrease power demands, Thompson said.

With the proposal calling for a 5,000-gallon storage tank, it wasn’t certain if the tank would be above-ground.

The diesel generator is expected to last between 25 to 30 years, and would be recyclable at that time, Thompson said.

In other matters, a presentation of bicycle air pumps was made to Council for use on the Ephrata to Warwick Rail Trail by Jeremy Guldin, owner of “KneadIt Massage and Bodyworks” to thank the borough for allowing a 5K race sponsored by “KneadIt” for the past five years.

Proceeds from the fund-raiser are usually presented to the Ephrata Area Public Library, Guldin said, but this year, the library received $3,000 and $2,200 was used to purchase the bike pumps which are to be mounted on the trail.

That will make things easier for bikers on the trail, Guldin said, as they can take care of the tires right away, instead of having to go off the trail.

Resident Theresa Carruthers asked council if any provisions were being made to accommodate electric cars, as they become more popular.

Carruthers also wanted to know if the borough can limit the size of trucks that “barrel” down Main Street.

Council President Susan E. Rowe informed Carruthers that the status of electric cars is being discussed by the highway committee.

Since Main Street is a state route, any changes or modifications have to go through PennDOT, Rowe said.

In other business, the Borough is considering purchasing the property and building of the Ephrata Recreation Center, but some facets of the transaction have to be ironed out. Melvin Weiler, chairman of the Development Activities Committee, told council that the property is currently owned by the Ephrata Borough Authority.

That committee wants to know if there is any interest in transferring the ownership from the EBA to Ephrata Borough. While the EBA owns the property and building, the borough is the guarantor of a bond used by the recreation center for improvements and repairs.

The borough has guaranteed the Ephrata Rec Center debt with no collateral.

Currently, only a few pieces of a lease from 1976 have been found, so a new lease would be necessary.

Borough Manager Thompson and the borough’s solicitor, James McManus have reviewed what remains of the lease. A proposed lease doesn’t require a lease payment until the Rec center’s repayment agreement is satisfied in 2021. After that, a lease payment of $1,000 per month would be required.

Recreation Center Director Jim Summers attended Monday evening’s meeting.

Summers told council that, since 2013, at least $750,000 was used for repairs and maintenance of the facility. Of that amount, the borough had contributed $210,000, Summers said.

“The rest came from our fund-raising activities,” Summers said. At question is, if there is a major renovation or building issue that must be repaired, who is responsible for those costs?

The tenant would pay up to $5,000, with the landlord (the borough) required to pay the remainder of the bill.
A few other issues cropped up.

In 2015, a leaky wall was found, but because it didn’t constitute a threat to the public, a deck that was affected by the leak was sealed, and nothing further was done. No significant repairs were made to the surrounding masonry.

But now the leak needs to be addressed more fully.

“It’s not the pool wall,” Summers said. “It’s a wall right outside of the pool wall.”

Noting that the borough council might not have all the information they needed to make a decision, President Rowe asked if they wanted to move forward or take the proposal back to committee.

“My perception is that, with the borough as the landlord, we might not want to take that on,” Rowe said.

“It would probably be safer for council to hold off on any vote until it can be addressed,” Thompson said. “We don’t know the issue and we don’t know the cost…are there other significant areas that need to be addressed?” Weiler said he would defer to the solicitor and follow his advice.

Rowe advised council that the 2019 budget allocated $138,000 for building maintenance.

“What percentage of an increase are we looking at if we add this building to our maintenance repairs?” Rowe asked. Rowe also asked if they know the fair market value of the recreation center building and if their insurance would increase if adding the property to the borough’s holdings.

With too many unknowns, the vote to transfer the Rec Center building to the borough has been put on hold.

Marylouise Sholly is a freelance feature writer for The Ephrata Review. She welcomes your comments and questions at weezsholly@verizon.net. 

One Comment

  1. larry

    May 10, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    Borough Manager D. Robert Thompson, who said the generators would run about 40 hours per year and save hundreds of thousands of dollars, said the plan is “a responsible alternative to lower heating costs.”

    You may want to do some fact checking on the above. 40 hours per year is not correct. Also is there one generator or multiple units connected to get the power required?

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