Financial problems mount for downtown geothermal system

Despite the sign on the door last Thursday, electricity to the big blue parking garage in downtown Warren is not in jeopardy of being shut off on May 8.

Penelec’s 30-day shut-off notice was posted on Warren’s Clark Street garage Thursday, is at least the second to be posted at that location. “The bill which must be paid to continue service is $10,920.05,” according to the notice.

A call to the city showed that the bill does not relate to the garage.

“The garage is located at 11 Clark Street,” City Manager Nancy Freenock said. “The notices are for 30 Clark Street.”

“The city is not in arrears,” she added.

Someone is.

The notice alerts tenants of “30 Clark Street Rear” that “electric service may be shut off… because your landlord failed to pay for the electric service.” The shut-off could take place any time after 8 a.m. Thursday, May 8.

“Termination of service is used as a last resort for issues such as payment agreements that have not been maintained, customers that do not respond to pre-termination notices or our company’s attempts to contact them,” First Energy External Affairs Manager Linda Routzahn said. “Service terminations reflect last efforts to address chronic and consistent non-payment by customers which sometime range over a couple years.”

Tenants were notified that they had the right to pay the bill and deduct the amount from their rent, according to the notice. A search Tuesday for other notices came up empty.

Exactly who the tenants of the property are could not be determined because the address in question does not exist.

According to the map room at the Warren County Courthouse and the county assessment office, there is no 30 Clark Street – nor 30 Clark Street Rear, for that matter – in the city.

The Transit Authority of Warren County (TAWC) and Allegheny Community Center share a 42 Clark Street address and Insert Molding Technologies is 36 Clark Street.

City officials suggested that the address in question could be the Geothermal Energy Systems LLC property located between the former Insert Molding Technologies building and the Allegheny River. According to the state Department of State’s record of corporate registration, Robert P. Yoder Sr. is president of Geothermal Energy Systems LLC.

Attempts to reach Yoder’s Turbotville headquarters, including the Geothermal Energy Systems LLC office, were unsuccessful.

According to the original site development plan for the system published on the website, the geothermal system in question would provide heating and cooling for the Liberty West buildings at either end of the 300 Block of Pennsylvania Avenue which were redeveloped as part of Impact Warren, as well as townhouses built at Breeze Point Landing.

The county assessment system shows Geothermal’s address as “Along River Behind TAWC.”

The geothermal system provides water for heating and cooling, as well as other non-drinking water, to TAWC.

A call to Penelec on Tuesday did not clarify the ownership of the property. “First Energy does not talk about individual accounts for privacy reasons,” Routzahn said.

The automated response in a Tuesday afternoon call to the number listed on the notice established that the total amount owed is $25,630.11.

If the Geothermal property is 30 Clark Street Rear, it will not be the first time the property has been in arrears.

TAWC Director John Aldrich said the geothermal system property was up for tax sale last year.

That information was confirmed at the Warren County Treasurer’s Office.

“From what I understand, no one came forward during the sale and put a bid in,” Aldrich said.

County records show taxes of $19,805 owed on the Geothermal property. Because the property was not sold at upset sale it will go to judicial sale this year if the taxes are not paid in full, Treasurer Dennis Munksgard said. Under judicial sale, the county starts the bidding at an amount that will reimburse its costs for preparing the property for sale – advertising and a title search go into that amount. Other than that, the property is sold free and clear.

Whether the Geothermal property is sold or not, Aldrich is worried.

“We’re concerned about the geothermal” system, he said.

His organization pays into the system. “We pay a usage bill to Yoder for access to the system,” he said.

Aldrich said TAWC doesn’t really have a back-up heating and cooling system, but “we do have a couple boilers that we run off gas,” Aldrich said. “We could probably get by on those. We could survive.”