Ephrata Borough staying connected

By on November 15, 2017

Borough joins the FTR auction market to hold down electricity prices

The winter of 2014 was a cold and costly one for Ephrata Borough.

Greatly increased energy demand in February 2014 — due to a Polar vortex of freezing cold weather — forced the borough to purchase $656,000 in electricity reserves.

The good news is that electric customers didn’t see a significant rise in their bill.

“We did not pass that cost onto our residents,” said Borough Manager D. Robert Thompson.

Though existing borough funds paid for the reserves, it’s not something Borough Council wants to do again.

Council on Monday night voted unanimously to adopt a resolution authorizing participation in the off-peak FTR market for the months of December 2017 and January and February 2018.

This is the second year that the borough has joined with the FTR market to hold down electricity prices.

FTR stands for financial transmission rights and allows market participants to offset potential losses related to the price risk of delivering energy to the grid, according to a governmental FTR website.

Participants, primarily municipalities, decide on how high a price they’ll pay for electricity, then join in an auction to buy power. If the price is higher than they want to pay, they “go home” without a contract.

“The FTR is an insurance policy when it comes to buying power out in the market,” said Vice-president Thomas Reinhold.

In 2014, when they needed more power, the borough had to pay top dollar, Reinhold said.

“This is a way to cover our bases,” Reinhold said. “We go into the auction with a pre-determined price range and we bid no higher than that.”

Participating in the FTR now will provide better prices as opposed to waiting until the market becomes desperate to buy power by January or February, Reinhold said.

“When we bid in the auction, we say what price we’re willing to pay; it’s like having insurance,” Thompson said. “Even if we get some really cold months, we only have to pay the fixed price.”

“It’s all about supply and demand,” Reinhold said. “This is the way to cover our bases if that scenario pops up again.”

In other business, Council President Susan E. Rowe questioned the amount of false alarms called into the Pioneer Fire Company last month.

False alarms amounted to nearly 31 percent of the fire company’s calls, coming from nursing homes, hospitals, homes, and businesses.

By comparison, the fire company responded to 7.69 percent of fires, 25.64 percent of rescue and emergency medical service calls, and 10.26 percent of hazardous conditions that didn’t include fire.

That translates to three fires, one overpressure rupture or explosion, four hazardous conditions, nine good intent calls, 10 rescue calls, and 12 false alarms.

“What concerns me here is if they are unavailable to help somebody who really needs help while going to a false alarm,” Rowe said. “Are they charging a fee for false alarms?”

Mayor Ralph Mowen agreed that the company has been getting an increase in false alarms, but didn’t have an answer as to why that was happening.

More homes as well as businesses have their own security alarms now, he said.

While the fire company does charge for a false alarm, Mowen said, sometimes it is difficult to get all the paperwork done in a timely manner, and some may fall by the wayside.

Mowen proposed a change in who receives false-alarm fees.

“Now, when we bill for false alarms, the money comes to the borough,” Mowen said. “Since it’s the fire company’s equipment and wear and tear, they should be getting the money for false alarms.”

Rowe agreed and assigned that issue to be looked at more closely by the Budget and Finance Committee.

In his monthly report, Pioneer Fire Chief Mike Kiefer said two firefighters were injured, with both requiring medical care at a hospital.

One firefighter slipped on a wet floor after a fire and the other suffered what Kiefer said was “a life-threatening medical emergency,” after fighting a fire. Both are recovering.

The council also granted a stormwater modification request for a small parking lot at Gus’s Keystone Diner at 3651 Rothsville Road.

For this month’s “municipal moment,” Nancy Harris of the borough’s zoning hearing board explained the duties of zoning to the council.

Ephrata’s zoning board began in 1947, Harris said, to guide growth in the borough.

The zoning board hears appeals, processes applications for special exceptions, implements planning, and regulates the use of land.

“A good zoning board should reflect the policy and goals of the community,” Harris said.

James Kiefer is the current chairman of the zoning hearing board.

Police Chief William ‘Bill’ Harvey reminded council that the Downtown Ephrata Tree Lighting and arrival of Santa will occur on Friday, Nov. 24, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at 16 East Main Street.

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