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Hall commissioners delay vote on energy projects
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After a lengthy debate and scrapped motions Wednesday night, the Hall County Board of Commissioners delayed its vote until March 27 on whether to contract with Siemens and Pepco Energy Services for energy-efficiency projects.

The controversial projects, running into the tens of millions of dollars, spurred Murrayville resident Doug Aiken to question the wisdom of the proposals. He said he wondered whether the proposed savings would offset the costs and whether the technology implemented now would be out of date in a few years.

“This is probably one of the greatest boondoggles I have seen,” he said. “I’m offended by this.”

The board, at the behest of Commissioner Billy Powell, was prepared to approve a deal with Siemens for a pared-down project involving lighting and water retrofits, as well as upgrading building heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, at the government center, courthouse and other buildings.

Those projects would cost about $3 million, with annual energy savings of about $267,000, therefore allowing the county to recoup costs in about 11 years. The original project proposed by Siemens called for $6.6 million in costs with an estimated $9 million in savings over 15 years, and would have included projects at local fire stations and the county jail.

But the board got hung up on details about financing the projects, as well as contract language dealing with access, security and scheduling issues for Siemens to implement the energy upgrades.

“I don’t feel comfortable on a maybe,” Commissioner Scott Gibbs said, explaining his reason for supporting a motion to put off the vote.

Despite the delay, the contract appears headed for approval. Though the county was contractually obligated to make a decision regarding the Siemens projects before the end of the week, or else pay in excess of $100,000 for the energy analysis, officials with the company agreed to wait two weeks for the board to iron out the contract details.

Still, Commissioner Craig Lutz expressed concerns the county was putting off needed capital projects, such as upgrades to county fire stations, at the risk of having to pay for them down the road out of the general fund rather than out of the savings generated by the energy upgrades.

“I would like a plan from staff on how to deal with some of the items that have been brought off the list,” he said. “I think those items are important. We need to look at how we’re going to handle that.”

Meanwhile, the board tabled discussion about Pepco’s proposed projects, which would cost more than $20 million over 15 years with an estimated savings of $39 million.

The projects include lighting retrofits at area libraries and community centers, as well as converting sheriff’s office patrol cars and other county vehicles from diesel and gasoline to compressed natural gas.

“Perhaps we will get some consensus around it by the next meeting,” Lutz said.

A major sticking point in moving forward on an agreement with Pepco is the fact its project savings are largely based on the prospect the sheriff’s office will convert its fleet of patrol cars to natural gas.

“Obviously, if the sheriff does not buy into this program, we don’t have a program,” Lutz said.

Commission Chairman Richard Mecum went one step further.

“The one thing I really don’t want to do is make the sheriff the scapegoat in this thing,” he said.