By David Skolnick
City council won’t rush into a decision on which of two companies will provide heat to five city-owned buildings.
But several council members said Monday’s presentation by Youngstown Thermal, the current provider, left them uncertain if the company is up to continuing to do the job.
Carl Avers, Youngstown Thermal’s chairman and chief executive officer, said at a meeting of the council buildings and grounds committee that going with his steam-based company would reduce the city’s utility costs for the five buildings to $2.7 million annually.
The city paid $4,005,065 in utilities, including steam, electricity and natural gas, last year, according to the city’s finance department.
“We’ll take the information, process it and see what is the best proposal,” said Councilman Julius T. Oliver, D-1st, buildings and grounds chairman. “But Mr. Avers doesn’t seem to have a clear plan. We don’t want a situation with city buildings not having energy.”
Oliver questioned Youngstown Thermal’s “reliability” to provide energy and said the “financial state of the company hasn’t been good either. There doesn’t seem to be a concrete plan. It’s all maybe.”
Youngstown Thermal went 20 years without a “single outage,” Avers said. Problems that occurred at Youngstown State University, when Youngstown Thermal provided heat and was – by far – its largest customer, were not the company’s fault, Avers said.
But others weren’t convinced.
“YSU seemed to be extremely frustrated by your company,” said city Finance Director David Bozanich to Avers.
Bozanich asked a series of questions of Avers after the presentation in which the company chairman and CEO acknowledged he filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2013. Avers said he did so because a financial capital group filed a “frivolous lawsuit” against him that did not go forward.
Bozanich also questioned Youngstown Thermal’s being selected as the site by the Department of Energy and Energy Industries of Ohio for the design, construction and testing of a $75 million prototype steam turbine, asking if the project was guaranteed.
Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th, also asked about the guarantee.
“I’m simply the host for this project,” Avers said. He added that the DOE is building it.
Avers criticized a proposal favored by the city administration to go with Brewer-Garrett Co. of Middleburg Heights.
Brewer-Garrett wants to build a steam boiler plant at city hall and the attached police station. It also wants to convert the downtown fire station from steam to electric, make 20 Federal Place all electric, and make modifications to the Covelli Centre’s lighting to make it more energy-efficient.
The city would pay the company $1,839,700 for the work with Brewer-Garrett guaranteeing that the municipality would save at least $3,234,180 over 15 years. After the initial cost, the city would save $1,294,480 under the proposal.
But city council hasn’t been told how much the Brewer-Garrett proposal would cost in annual energy expenses.
“It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen years out with electricity” with Brewer-Garrett’s proposal, Oliver said. “Electricity seems to be more expensive than steam. We may need an energy consultant” to help make a decision.
Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, D-7th, said she also wants more time to do research on the best proposal and that other Youngstown Thermal customers have expressed concern about its reliability.
Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, said, “Reliability is always an issue with government, especially with safety services and fire getting its energy. A lot of good information was provided. We’ll continue to discuss the information and see what makes sense.”