Wood County Commission nixes energy grant

PARKERSBURG – A motion by Wood County Commission President Wayne Dunn to proceed with an application for a new energy program grant died for lack of second on Monday.

Wood County Grant Coordinator Toni Tiano presented the application for a $10,000 state grant, which, if approved, requires a $2,000 local funding match.

“The purpose of the grant is to provide education and an energy expo that is targeted to businesses, to provide information on the importance of making businesses energy efficient, and showing them how funds could be saved. There is also a marketing component to the program,” Tiano told county commissioners.

“This is the next phase of the continuing energy program,” Dunn said.

Tiano said if the grant was awarded, the county would have to seek request for proposals for the marketing portion of the program.

Tiano said it was aimed at businesses that might be retrofitting facilities and needed advice on potential energy savings.

The budget for the grant calls for funding for advertising, speakers at the expo, promotional materials, food, a website, youth-related expenses for the expo, and funding for kits that would be handed out to expo attendees.

Commissioner Blair Couch said the county has more than $40,000 set aside in the county budget from a previously closed out building bond issue, that is designated for energy projects.

“It’s not a bad idea, but we have funds in-house. I’d like to see how the December expo goes to see if it draws in people. With the mechanical problems with the other grants, the difficulties, regardless of those, the other program didn’t really have the impact it was thought it would,” Couch said.

“When you remove the list of people who had energy audits done that weren’t connected with the program, there were only about 12-13 home energy audits done and about $20,000 was spent,” Couch noted. “I’m concerned about spending a lot of money for the expo and it isn’t as successful as we think then we’re back to the drawingboard again.”

Couch said he wanted more time to discuss the projects and look at goals and agendas.

Tiano said the grant application is due Friday.

“I think this is an opportunity to move this ahead on the local, state and national level, there was no problem with the other grants, we just pulled out of them, they would have gone through,” Dunn said.

In mid-September the commissioners voted, 2-1, with Dunn dissenting, to discontinue participating in two federal Department of Energy grants awarded for the SMART Energy Solutions Program. The grants totaled $20,000.

Dunn spearheaded the program and the grants were awarded in January. No money from those two grants expended. Through the earlier grants, education and energy assessments for middle-income homeowners were to be provided in partnership with the Energy Assessment Program at West Virginia University at Parkersburg. Students in the program conducted the energy audits.

After concerns were raised over the program, the commissioners discussed whether to continue or discontinue participation, facing the possible loss of future grant funding or auditing citations if the program continued. The county officials cited Dunn opening up a checking account without the commissioners’ knowledge, signing checks to himself for reimbursement of expenses Dunn said he incurred personally or through his dental practice on behalf of the program, Dunn hiring an employee of his dental office staff to coordinate the program and not using the county’s standard purchasing process to run transactions through as reasons for stepping away from the grants.

“We have funds in-house to do these programs if we decide we want to, I’d like the opportunity to discuss it further, there are ways to impact the local community, but I’d like to have that discussion,” Couch said. “I give you all the credit in the world and as a funding source, I think we’re there for you. Don’t take this as anything negative against what you’re trying to do, I think we’re ready to move this forward in a way that makes sense. But with the previous problems, I’m hesitant to go for more grants.”

Dunn said he saw no reason for any hesitation.

“…it’s another tool to move us forward, we didn’t get as many energy audits as we expected to, for many reasons, people didn’t receive the benefit of the long-term gains, so we had to focus more on the information side,” Dunn said.

Commissioner Steve Gainer said he thought most people were already aware of how to save money on energy.

“I think one of the problems is you think they don’t know, but they do,” Gainer said.

Dunn’s motion to proceed with the grant application failed for lack of a second.