The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 9, 2013

Electric bills make airport’s new hangars less attractive

Star Beacon

DENMARK TOWNSHIP — At least one member of the Ashtabula County Airport Authority has indicated a willingness to resolve the burden of individual electric bills on tenants of the new hangars at the Northeast Ohio Regional Airport.

Two tenants, Neal Woodworth of Geneva and Dave Siebold of Painesville, attended the authority’s meeting Tuesday and urged the board to hire electricians to convert each of the two buildings to a single-meter arrangement. As it is, FirstEnergy treats each hangar space as a separate commercial installation and bills a minimum of about $32 a month, regardless of how little electricity is consumed. For example, Woodworth said his bill was under $32 for a kilowatt (kw) of consumption. When he used 28 kw in another month, the bill was $35.14.

Siebold, who has rented space at the airport for 11 years, said he switched his aircraft to one of the older hangars, mainly because of the electric bill issue.

Authority member Dave Price said the original engineering for the two new hangar buildings was based upon a single meter with tenants splitting the monthly cost of the power between them. That model, however, comes with the risk of abuse — the tenant who moves a refrigerator, freezer, television and other items into the hangar and treats it like a living room. A decision was made, without the authority’s approval, to change the design to individual meters so the tenants would be billed only for the power used in their hangar.

That arrangement was acceptable until FirstEnergy and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio struck a deal that allowed the utility to impose a minimum charge on every commercial meter. For most tenants of the new hangars, that has amounted to an increase of $25 or more per month.

Price told the authority that he would like to explore options, such as Woodworth’s suggestion of rewiring the structures, and present a proposal to the authority. But President Dwight Bowden told Price that the subject already had been explored by the authority.

“It has been thoroughly vetted,” he said. “It hasn’t been ignored. It’s a public utilities issue.”

Bowden reminded Price that the board “has no money” and that going to a single-meter approach would add an additional administrative burden, as well as the cost of modifying the electrical systems. But Siebold pointed out that by eliminating the burdensome minimum charge, the new hangars would be more attractive to potential tenants.

The authority has struggled to fill the two new hangars, which have become a drag on the airport’s finances. The annual payment on the bond is about $80,000; the county’s general fund last year kicked in $95,000 toward airport finances.

Woodworth and Price pointed out that the authority’s tight finances make it impossible to otherwise reduce hangar rental costs to tenants.

“The only thing we can practically do anything about is the electric bill,” Price said. “Perhaps we can come up with something that minimizes that burden. It comes down to this is the only thing we got control over that makes sense.”

Price pushed the authority to authorize him to explore the subject with tenants.

“I think there is a solution we can live with,” Price said.

One of the challenges the authority will face in revamping the system is that each hangar door is on a separate meter. In order to open the door for that hangar, the meter must be activated by the utility, and the monthly charge incurred. There is no mechanical solution to the issue, and a portable generator would have to be used to open the doors of unoccupied hangars.