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Gas plant cleanup may be less than expected

Water, Gas & Light Commission Assistant General Manager for Operations Keith Goodin reports on the ongoing EPD-ordered cleanup of a manufactured gas plant in Albany at WG&L’s board meeting Thursday.

Water, Gas & Light Commission Assistant General Manager for Operations Keith Goodin reports on the ongoing EPD-ordered cleanup of a manufactured gas plant in Albany at WG&L’s board meeting Thursday.

ALBANY, Ga. — An assistant general manager with Albany’s Water, Gas & Light Commission told members of the commission’s board of directors Thursday morning the latest news on the ongoing environmental cleanup of a manufactured gas plant in the city is good news.

Assistant General Manager for Operations Keith Goodin told the WG&L board at the second of its August meetings that Environmental Protection Division-ordered test wells and core samples taken at the Front Street site showed no contamination beyond the area where most of the byproduct from the manufacture of energy using super-heated oil and coal was created.

“I’m pleased with what we found,” Goodin said. “I don’t believe we have much more of the byproduct to remove. I believe we now know where it is located and where it stops.”

Goodin said the latest testing came with a price tag of around $70,000, bringing total cost for the cleanup to slightly more than a half-million dollars. He said insurance has paid an additional $400,000.

“I don’t like to get ahead of myself until we have more information, but I’m optimistic that where we were saying the (overall) cost of the cleanup could come in around $9 million, it could actually be closer to $4 million to $5 million,” he said.

Goodin said testing on soil samples taken from the site is not complete. A Phase II dig cannot be completed until authorized by EPD, which must first view soil test results.

“We have to do digging in cooler weather, and I’m not optimistic we’ll get the go-ahead by next spring,” he said. “If not, it’ll be a year from now, in the fall (of 2014).”

Goodin also sought, and received, permission from the board to start seeking a funding source for erection of a 750,000-gallon water tank in Northwest Aalbany. The tank will address low pressure issues in that area. Goodin said he expects a cost of around $1.7 million and would not accept a bid in excess of $2 million. The WG&L executive said the utility plans to put up a composite water tank that will not require periodic painting.

Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia Vice President of Power Supply Steve Jackson warned utility officials about potential issues that loom on the horizon. Jackson said there is talk of controlling carbon dioxide emissions at coal-fired plants in the future, an expensive process that could bump up costs to MEAG members. He also said an oversupply of coal had been delivered to certain plants, and lower-than-expected usage throughout the collective left many utilities with excess power to sell, saturating the market and driving prices for the electricity down.

Jackson also reminded WG&L officials that credits from funds collected as a hedge against deregulation, which for WG&L will total around $90 million, end in 2018.

Earlier at the meeting the board approved a new customer deposit policy recommended by WG&L Assistant General Manager for Administration Lee Hauesler. The system will assign “colors” to new customers’ applications based on credit history. “Green” customers (with good credit) will pay a $50 deposit, “yellow” customers a $100 deposit and “red” customers a $200 deposit.

The board had tabled the measure at its last meeting.

Fiscal Affairs Director John Vansant said in his monthly financial report that the utility had ended Fiscal Year 2013 with $1.2 million in earnings, well below budgeted numbers. But Vansant said WG&L had increased its fund balance for the year from $5 million to $6.8 million.

The first report of FY 2014 showed projected sales down across the board for water, gas and electricity and up significantly for telecommunications. Vansant said weather is the key contributing factor.

“If we get back to our normal (temperature) averages, we’ll be fine,” he said.

The board failed to second a motion to approve funding to renew an Internet services contract, choosing instead to continue paying “double what we’d pay if we agreed to a (proposed) three-year contract” while staff researched cost of the service from other providers.