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Unanswered questions create uncertainty on Hall's energy proposal
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THE BLITZ: Dawson County at North Hall

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Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said in a statement released by the office that the county’s proposed energy plan leaves many questions unanswered.

“As a steward of the taxpayer’s money, I must look closely at all options and alternatives,” Couch said. “At this time I cannot endorse any type of proposal of this nature without conducting my own in-depth review.

“Many questions remain unanswered about this proposal and there are many unknown variables.”

The Hall County Board of Commissioners tabled its vote on whether to contract with Pepco Energy Services and Siemens for energy-efficiency projects at its March 12 meeting.

Pepco’s proposed projects, including lighting retrofits at area libraries and community centers, had a price tag of more than $20 million over 15 years, with an estimated savings of $39 million.

A major sticking point in moving forward on an agreement with Pepco was that project savings were largely dependent on the sheriff’s office converting its fleet of patrol cars from diesel and gasoline to compressed natural gas.

Commission Chairman Richard Mecum, who said at the meeting he didn’t want to “make the sheriff the scapegoat” in the project, said he, too, had questions and doubts about the proposal.

“There are several big questions that come into this thing,” he said. “Is compressed natural gas the future? Yes. ... But the technology is not fully explored yet.”

He said cost estimates to retrofit the cars come with a price of about $1,300 to $1,500 each. 

Having had a chance to examine a retrofit with the CNG tank, he said there are other factors to weigh as well.

“The difficultly with having CNG also is the tank took up so much space,” he said, in a small Ford with both a regular petroleum tank and CNG.

In the end, he said, while innovation is great, government spending projects should be a calculated risk.

“Government investment is not about taking big, big risks,” he said. “It’s stability; it’s being good stewards of the taxpayer dollar.”

The sheriff’s office also said in the release that its input has thus far been “limited.”

“The sheriff’s office was brought into discussions on the energy-efficiency program with Pepco during the final stages of the proposal,” said public information officer Deputy Nicole Bailes. “In truth, we have had limited input in this process.

“This is a monumental financial and operational decision which will affect the future of Hall County for years.”

Couch also stressed that any financial move that carried a potential to backfire would be a poorly timed decision with recovery steady, but perhaps tenuous.

“Our county is in the process of financial recovery and the last thing anyone wants to do is impede that recovery,” Couch said. 

“As always, we will continue to look for sound cost saving opportunities (that) are both efficient and effective. After a substantive in-depth independent study, hopefully many of the ‘what if’s’ associated with the CNG project will be answered.

“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.”