District treasurer Tammy Miller estimates Reynoldsburg schools' electric bill will increase by about 10 percent this year and 12 percent next year due to the recent rate hikes initiated by American Electric Power (AEP).

District treasurer Tammy Miller estimates Reynoldsburg schools' electric bill will increase by about 10 percent this year and 12 percent next year due to the recent rate hikes initiated by American Electric Power (AEP).

The district's electric bill last fiscal year was $717,000. With two new school buildings opening this year, estimated costs for electricity were about $1 million, Miller said, but because of the rate hike, she said that figure is expected to increase.

Those higher rates were part of a plan the governing board of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved unanimously two months ago, but when AEP customers started receiving bills that reflected the new rates, complaints began pouring in, particularly from small businesses. They, along with churches and schools, are receiving higher bills - in some cases, much higher - because of provisions in the plan that reduce costs for large manufacturers and transfer much of the burden to others.

As a result of the complaints, the PUCO has said it will issue revised AEP rates on Thursday, Feb. 23, after ThisWeek's press time on Tuesday.

However, Miller said, the cost increase for Reynoldsburg schools might not be as severe as for other AEP customers since the district is a member of Strategic Energy Group, an energy consortium used by many Ohio schools to keep electric usage costs down.

She said thanks to the consortium, the Reynoldsburg district does not buy directly from AEP, but does pay the utility directly for transmission costs.

She said while the consortium helps bring usage costs down, with transmission costs factored in, overall estimates this fiscal year for electricity are now at about $1.13 million and could go to $1.26 million next year.

"When they (AEP) increase usage and transmission charges, it's going to hit us somehow, but if we also bought our electric usage directly from AEP, it would be even higher," Miller said.

She said besides being in a consortium, other initiatives have been put in place by the district to help cut electricity costs.

In 1999, the district became involved in the government's Energy Conservation Program, or House Bill 264 initiative, which allows school districts to make energy efficiency improvements to their buildings and use the cost savings to pay for those improvements.

In Reynoldsburg, the district began installing sensors in every building and classroom, Miller said.

The sensors automatically turn off the lights in a room about five minutes after the last person leaves it, thus helping save electricity, she said.

District business manager Ron Strussion said all buildings and classrooms now have the sensors installed.

He said because of its involvement in the conservation program the district recently received a rebate from AEP in the amount of $117,000.

Miller said that money will be placed in the district's general fund and will help offset future electric costs.

The district already faces cuts in state funding next year estimated at between $1.3 million and $1.5 million. Miller said higher electricity costs will add to that.

"We're not done figuring out exactly how much the figure will be, but this will be part of it and we'll have to incorporate that in there also," she said.

- Dan Gearino of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.