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Plan to cut energy use up for vote by Hall commissioners
Some officials not sold yet on possible green power savings
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Hall Board of Commissioners meeting today

What: The Board of Commissioners will vote on multimillion dollar energy-efficiency contracts with Siemens and Pepco

When: 3 p.m.

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville

The road to today’s Hall County Board of Commissioners’ vote on whether to contract with Siemens and Pepco for multimillion-dollar, energy-efficiency projects has been fraught with shifting financial estimates, unknowns about future utility costs and concerns the technology might soon be out of date.

For several years, county officials have been looking to make a significant investment in lighting and water retrofit projects, as well as other energy conservation measures, as a way to become more environmentally friendly and reduce operating costs. But looking at specific projects only began within about the past year, Commissioner Craig Lutz and others have said.

The board came close March 12 to approving a proposed contract with Siemens that calls for efficiency upgrades at the Hall County Government Center, courthouse and other county buildings at an estimated cost of $2.85 million. Savings on utility costs would recoup the expense in about 11 years, county and Siemens officials said.

While Commissioners Craig Lutz and Billy Powell have said they are ready to vote in favor of the contract, Chairman Richard Mecum and Commissioners Jeff Stowe and Scott Gibbs remain on the fence.

“I’m not sold yet,” Gibbs said Wednesday.

He said he has one more meeting with Siemens today before the vote.

Meanwhile, the board earlier this month tabled discussion of a contract with Pepco that includes lighting retrofit projects 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. These projects would cost an estimated $20 million over 15 years with savings of about $39 million.

The idea is a plant can be built to capture methane at a local landfill for conversion to natural gas, and costs would be recouped by selling that fuel at mobile filling stations and for use in patrol cars. To this end, the county has proposed purchasing for the sheriff’s office about 80 new patrol cars that would run on natural gas.

But getting these projects off the ground could take up to two years, county officials said.

It is clear the Pepco contract hinges on Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch’s approval.

“I will not rush to a decision and will not go blindly into an energy-efficiency project that may or may not prove to have long-term cost savings,” Couch said in a statement earlier this month.

Pepco will showcase five natural gas-fueled cars today at the Government Center prior to the board’s vote.

“I’ve heard all I want,” Mecum said earlier this week, indicating he’s ready to vote on the contract one way or another.

But another factor may come into play.

According to disclosure reports, a sales representative at Pepco gave Lutz a $1,000 campaign contribution in December for his Georgia Public Service Commission race this year.

Lutz said he would not recuse himself from voting because Steven Stovall is a personal friend and is no longer employed by Pepco.

“I don’t perceive it as a conflict of interest because the fact of the matter is we were long down this road before he ever offered me a campaign contribution ...” Lutz told The Times. “I think you could have made a point if he still worked there, but he doesn’t work there anymore.”

Today’s meeting will take place at 3 p.m. today at the Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville.

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