Berlin Council Approves Generator Project

Berlin Council Somerset
Published April 7, 2016
Written by Erik Kieta

It’s official. With a 4-2 vote Thursday night the Berlin Borough Council voted to move forward with bringing electric generation to the municipality.

The vote awarded a $2,234,274 contract to PowerSecure, of Wake Forest, North Carolina. The plan is to bring 3.75 megawatts of diesel electric generation to town. The power will be tapped during times of peak usage.

In what started out as a tense, heated meeting that included shouting, laughter and cursing among residents and the council, council President Brett Custer, Vice President Roger Clarke and Councilmen Tom Fisher and Eric Glotfelty voted in favor of the multimillion-dollar plan.

Council members Barb Zerfoss and Charles Rhodes cast the dissenting votes.

Zerfoss said she voted against the project because she doesn’t believe the estimate for what it will cost is accurate.

“I don’t think we have a bottom total price for doing all of this,” she said, adding that she doesn’t believe a resident vote conducted last month on whether to buy the generator is accurate.

Rhodes said he voted against the plan because he feels a lot of his constituents are not in favor of it.

The borough has money set aside in an account to pay for the project. The account should have a balance of $2.6 million after paying for the work, Custer said.

Last month borough workers mailed a ballot to all of Berlin’s approximate 1,150 electric customers asking them to vote “yes” or “no” on moving forward with the project.

The vote came back 380 in favor of the project and 81 against.

One resident, however, said during the meeting that he never received a ballot.

Borough employee Tammy Werner said that issues with the Postal Service could have caused some residents not to receive a ballot. She added that some people came to the borough office to cast their vote.

After the council voted to move forward with the project, Custer addressed the crowded room of 24 people who attended the meeting.

“I would like to congratulate the council and the community for their support in moving forward with a project that will work for the benefit of the entire borough,” he said. “Proceeding with generation provides us with both backup power and insulates us from future demand and capacity increases that would otherwise balloon everyone’s electric bill.”

Custer tried to address the elephant in the room — alleged personal vendettas — that became a main topic of the heated public comment period. Negativity on social media websites was also a topic of the comment period.

“It is my hope that the entire council — the entire council — might proceed in a united manner as we continue our path toward true energy independence for Berlin Borough,” he said.

Custer said once the council notifies PowerSecure of its decision, the project should be completed in six to eight months.

“We would like to see this operational by December,” he said.

Clarke said he initially did not favor the project, but decided to vote for it because it is a move toward energy independence. He hopes that the borough can one day turn six tons of garbage collected in the municipality daily into 700 gallons of diesel fuel to power the generators.

Although the council does not possess capabilities to do that, Clarke said the generation project is the first step in the right direction.

“Berlin is spending $120,000 a year (in tipping fees) in garbage that can be turned into diesel fuel,” he said.

The borough buys power from American Municipal Power, of Ohio, and then distributes it to its customers.

The council has been working for about a year and a half to purchase generators that could produce up to 5 megawatts of electrical generation in town. The generators would be turned on six times a year when electric costs are at their highest.

Most council members claim the move will keep electric rates steady for customers in light of electric rates they said are set to skyrocket in the next several years.

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