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County talks energy savings

November 21, 2012
By MARK J. MILLER - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE -The Jefferson County commissioners OK'd a three-year contract Tuesday that should lead to a substantial savings in electricity costs.

Utility energy savings was discussed during Tuesday's Jefferson County commissioners meeting.

Energy brokers Jason Peterson of GeoStar Professionals and Dan Taylor of 5 Star Energy Group Inc. approached the commissioners about possibly signing an agreement with Direct Energy, a commodity firm specializing in providing electricity for utility customers.

Peterson told commissioners if they signed a three-year contract with the firm Tuesday the county could be locked into being supplied electric for its operations at the rate of 5.9 cents per kilowatt hour, a substantial average rate savings from what the county currently was paying, according to Peterson. He also said the agreement was the same as presented to commissioners during a previous meeting and already inspected by the Jefferson County prosecutor's office.

"It's the same agreement - to the period," said Peterson, adding rates changed daily, and the rate could increase if commissioners waited to sign any agreement.

Peterson previously had conducted an energy audit and told commissioners they were paying more than 50 different rates for county departments. He also said paying one stabilized rate would save the county between $110,000 to $120,000 in the first year alone. The commissioners also had the option of signing for from one to three years, although the three-year contact would result in the most savings, said Peterson. Although the county was signing with the commodity firm, power still would be supplied by American Electric Power, he added.

Commissioner Dave Maple said the offer was attractive, but he was hesitant to give his approval for a three-year contract with a company the county had never done business with before. Commissioner Tom Graham echoed Maple's concerns.

"We don't know you," said Maple, adding he was more prone to sign a one-year agreement with the company.

Peterson told commissioners the contract was with the third-largest energy commodity firm which had a proven track record. After a lengthy discussion, commissioners agreed to sign for three years, noting the option of being locked into a low rate for three years was too attractive to pass up.

"We're insulating ourselves from (rate) increases," said Commissioner Tom Gentile, adding he's seen projections where energy costs are expected to rise substantially in the next three years.

Commissioners also said the savings generated by the contract combined with other savings should result in the county saving about $200,000 a year in electric energy costs.

In other matters:

Commissioners agreed to go with an offer for a $3.6 million bond issue from Huntington Bank to finance upgrades and updates to Jefferson County 911. Although the county had received several bids from area banks, many of the offers came with too many strings attached, said county deputy Auditor Michael Warren in recommending the bank's proposal for the 10-year bond issue.

"This (Huntington proposal) is strictly a bond issue," said Warren, adding the county would own all equipment under Huntington's proposal, while other banks would own equipment until the bond is paid off. "It's essentially just like a mortgage."

Warren also told commissioners although the interest rate bid from Huntington was slightly higher than some, "there are less hoops to jump through."

Huntington's proposal included a fixed annual interest of 1.95 percent.

"That rate is fantastic," said Warren.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to Huntington's proposal and signed a contract during the meeting.

In a letter Steubenville officials requested a meeting with commissioners to discover if they could share any resources. Commissioners said they were open to ways to help save both entities money through sharing resources.

"Steubenville is in a bad financial situation," said Graham, adding he set up a preliminary meeting with city officials to discuss any possible options for shared resources.

"It makes sense to talk about these issues," said Maple, adding although the two could discuss possible ways of sharing resources the county was in no position to help the city financially.

"This is just a preliminary meeting to get more clarification," said Graham.

Commissioners approved the appointment of Charles Joyce, Steve Bolger and James Padden to serve as board members for the Jefferson County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Commissioners commended all three for their service.

It was announced the Jefferson County Courthouse would be closed Thursday and Friday in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.

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