By Erich Hiner
College Green News Editor
Athens residents and Ohio University students got a chance to speak out on energy issues Tuesday night at the Athens Community Center during the city’s first town-hall-style meeting about its energy use and environmental impact.
The talk focused on local energy use and was held to facilitate discussion between the city, OU and local advocates about Athens’ environmental challenges. By holding a public forum, Athens can help citizens and groups get in touch and coordinate their efforts, said Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl.
“You have several entities that are working parallel with each other,” Wiehl said. “It’s good that they can actually talk a little bit and find out what each one’s doing.”
Six panelists presented information on local energy initiatives and fielded questions from a crowd of about 50 people. Speakers included representatives from Athens City Council, OU, American Electric Power and several area advocacy groups.
Topics discussed included alternative energy sources, OU’s power usage and ways to cut energy costs. Although they proposed different strategies, the speakers agreed that Athens’ energy could be used more efficiently.
“We’ve got a bucket with holes in it,” Greg Kremer, a member of the Sierra Club, said about Athens’ current power system. “We really have to focus first on efficiency, plugging those holes.”
OU Executive Director of Facilities Management Mike Gebeke said the university is taking steps to increase energy conservation. OU will maintain its equipment to make sure the university’s heating and cooling systems run at peak efficiency, Gebeke said. OU will also focus on updating old equipment to make the university more energy efficient.
Speakers at the meeting also discussed ongoing efforts to make sustainable living easier for Athens residents. Athens City Council member Elahu Gosney talked about the Residential Solar Initiative, an effort to improve local home and business owners’ access to affordable solar panels. Scott Miller of Rural Action, a local advocacy group, said his organization is working to create a countywide carpooling system to help rural residents with fuel costs.
The panel also touched on recent energy efforts made by area businesses. Sherry Hubbard, education and training administrator for American Electric Power, said her company will do its part to promote energy savings in Athens. AEP has started a refrigerator recycling program that allows residents to trade in their old appliance for a cash reward. The company is also selling energy-saving light bulbs at a discount to its customers.
Attendees of the talk were pleased to see community groups, businesses and OU officials discussing energy issues with one another. Dover Township resident Brandon Jaeger said it is important for like-minded groups to communicate.
“I think these meetings are very helpful,” he said. “To get them all in one room and discuss it and work it out … is absolutely necessary.”
Other audience members said the meeting highlighted areas that could be improved. Christina Liakos, a member of the Sierra Student Coalition at OU, said she was disappointed at the current lack of cooperation between OU and the community.
“It does really sound like there’s a lot of things the City of Athens and Ohio University could be working a lot more together,” Liakos said, adding that she hopes that will change after the meeting.
Although Tuesday’s meeting was the first of its kind for Athens, organizers said it would not be the last. Athens will likely hold another town hall meeting on energy issues as interest in the topic grows, officials said.