Proposed changes to a fund designed to increase electricity conservation and efficiency got a plug Tuesday from a divided public utilities commission.
Oberlin Municipal Light & Power System’s $400,000 sustainable reserve program was created in 2007. It has been criticized for being inaccessible to the public and for not spending enough money on energy saving and environmental initiatives.
With the amount of the fund expected to increase to about $800,000 by year’s end through Renewable Energy Credit profits, efforts are underway to make the program more productive.
The credits are pollution offsets sold by OMLPS to out-of-state utilities allowing those utilities to meet stricter environmental standards without actually reducing pollution.
The program, in which residents or groups apply for grants, has been promoted by the nonprofit group Providing Oberlin with Energy, also known as POWER. Steve Dupee, OMLPS electric director, told commission members the program has not resulted in “significant” energy savings or carbon dioxide reduction.
Dupee said the changes would switch the fund from a grant-based program where money is spent on initiatives with a “municipal utility purpose” and a “community-wide benefit” to one overseen by him. The goal is reducing consumption, costs, pollution, and climate change primarily through municipal infrastructure improvements as well as enhancing current efficiency programs for businesses and homes.
“We are trying to balance all of these needs or benefits with the sustainable reserve program.” Dupee said.
He purposefully did not include specifics on how the money would be spent under the proposed changes, saying specifics would be discussed when a proposal is developed and resident input would be sought.
Commission members Tony Mealey, Ben Ryba and chairman John Scofield voted to recommend the changes to city council members, who will have final say. Commission members Heather Elmer and vice chairman Carl McDaniel voted no.
Scofield said having Dupee devise initiatives rather than waiting for groups or individuals to apply for grants would make the program more productive.
“We all want to see this money do more than sit there and earn (nearly) zero interest,” Scofield said. “We can provide the impetus to begin spending this on wise projects.”
However, McDaniel was skeptical that giving Dupee more control of the program would make it more productive. He said the commission over the last few years had urged Dupee to use the program, but no money was spent.
“That’s a concern,” McDaniel said. “I don’t know that this is making it more clear to the public how this money might be used.”
Elmer said after the meeting that language limiting spending to “municipal electric services, programs, and/or projects” is too narrow and might limit environmental initiatives.
“There are a very broad range of opportunities that exist for us to improve energy efficiency in a cost effective way,” she said.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.