City officials slow to answer questions on electrical aggregation

City officials haven’t adopted an electrical aggregation plan despite voters approving the idea last year.

The electrical aggregation plan allows city and county officials to purchase electricity as a package deal for the entire county. It would allow for better negotiation with power companies and cut costs on residents’ individual bills, said Athens County Commissioner Chris Chmiel.

But Athens officials have not communicated their progress on solidifying that plan to residents and even ignored those who started asking questions.

Residents were initially told last November that changes might come within six months, according to a previous Post report.

Dean Bruckner, Athens resident and assistant electrical engineering professor in the Ohio University Russ College of Engineering, said he has been waiting for more than a year to hear back from city officials on where they stand.

Bruckner said he first contacted his councilman, Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, on Nov. 18, 2013, and quickly received a response from Risner and Debbie Walker, clerk of Athens City Council. The message told him to contact Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl.

From there, the line went cold.

“When I first contacted the city, Debbie Walker and Jeff Risner both told me that Mayor Wiehl was the designated official for responding to questions about electrical aggregation in the City of Athens,” Bruckner said.

Wiehl never responded until Risner told him he was contacting local media outlets, including The Post.

“The city pretty much ignored me and my reasonable questions about how they were going about setting policy for aggregation, and about how they intended to preserve the public trust that must accompany what has to be a very large flow of money,” Bruckner said. “I wasn’t asking any technical questions, just policy questions.”

Wiehl maintained that he did not respond to the questions because he was “not the best expert for electrical aggregation in any means.”

Wiehl did say, however, that he had been attending regular meetings with the Southeastern Ohio Public Energy Council to discuss contracting with American Electric Power.

Chmiel said electrical aggregation should be affecting residents’ power bills starting Jan. 1 — cutting more than 15 percent of costs off residents’ current power bill.

“We’re in the process of negotiating with AEP energy,” Chmiel said. “We’re really close to, hopefully, getting the contract where we can sign it.”

The contract was “supposed to happen any day this week,” Chmiel said.

It was not signed as of Thursday afternoon.

“Seriously, we are so close,” Chmiel said. “We’re trying to do it right, and that takes time.”

Of the power received by local homes, 25 percent will be considered “green” — from wind, hydroelectric or solar power — Chmiel said, adding that, as part of the contract, “we’re going to be hopefully getting… a 3 megawatt, 10-acre solar farm right here in Athens County.”

There will be a series of public meetings after the contract is signed, Chmiel said.

“I mean seriously, if anyone calls me and wants to talk about it, I’ll sit with them all day and talk about it,” Chmiel said.



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