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Published: Saturday, 3/25/2006

Council may vote on ordinance to create electric utility

An electrical utility could be established at no cost to the city, at least initially, council members were told during a hearing yesterday.

An ordinance up for a possible vote Tuesday would start the process of creating an entity that could buy and sell power on the grid or generate power for use by citizens, businesses, and factories.

The legislation resurrects an idea that was debated and then dropped eight years ago amid visions of duplicate power lines up and down city streets. The newest plan is narrower, and councilmen were assured that any projects would need their vote first.

Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said the enabling legislation "costs no money. What it does is create a vast opportunity for the citizens to take advantage of."

"Each of these projects would be evaluated on their own merit," said Robert Williams, the city's director of public utilities. He said three renewable-energy firms have contacted him in the last week just based on news that Toledo is considering a municipal utility.

Mark Frye, an energy consultant to Lucas County, predicted that alternative power producers would offer to pay all the costs associated with setting up generators that could operate through the city's utility. He said, however, that the city might pay for studies or construction to lure a particular employer to town.

The county is paying $150,000 for initial design of a steam-generating plant downtown that would provide power to city and county buildings through a municipally owned utility. Mr. Gerken said the plant could be powered by natural gas or renewable sources like corn and wood chips.

Representatives of FirstEnergy Corp. and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce observed the hearing but did not testify or ask questions.

Mark Durbin, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, noted after the meeting that the costs of a county-owned steam generator and the city's investment in new electrical lines to receive the electricity were not discussed.

"I think people need to be careful when politicians say there are no costs involved," Mr. Durbin said. "If they want to supply just the city and county buildings, who's going to pay for that?"

He said that new city-owned electrical generation facilities may not make electricity any cheaper than Toledo Edison's energy, but would still have to be paid for.

Councilman George Sarantou said Toledo's economy is hampered by the rates charged by Toledo Edison, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy. "We really have these exorbitant electric costs. If we can turn them around, we'd do very well," Mr. Sarantou said.



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