Answering the $2.6 million question of what to do with Renewable Energy Credits was the subject of a May 16 city council hearing.
The credits, also known as Renewable Energy Certificates, are pollution offsets. The Oberlin Municipal Light and Power System has sold them on the energy market to energy companies allowing them to be in compliance with stricter state clean energy standards without actually producing more clean energy.
One credit represents 1,000 killowatt hours, or one megawatt hour, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. A megawatt — one million watts — provides energy to about 600 homes annually.
Steve Dupee, system director, said the utility is expected to earn $2.6 million in revenue from sales by year’s end.
But the revenue from the not-for-profit utility was paid for by higher rates for customers. As part of a commitment to becoming carbon-free by 2050 — the system is expected to generate 87 percent of its electricity fossil free by next year — the utility has been buying landfill gas and wind energy, which costs more than pollutants like coal.
Customers paid an extra $1.8 million between 2012 and last year.
Dupee said renewable energy for 180,000 megawatt hours will cost $9.1 million next year compared to about $6 million for the same amount in 2013. The average residential customer in 2o13 paid about $900 annually and will pay $1,149 yearly in 2017, an approximately 27 percent increase.
Public utilities commission members recommend rebating 85 percent of the $2.6 million to customers. The remainder would go in the system’s sustainable reserve fund, designed to create long-term savings through improved energy efficiency.
Council is expected to decide on the credits by year’s end.
Drawing on resident input, councilman Bryan Burgess prepared a report for council on energy savings through credit revenue. Proposals include municipal infrastructure upgrades and expanding weatherization programs to businesses and homes.
Burgess’s report and spending for long-term energy savings got good reviews from about 10 hearing speakers, including the Rev. Lester Allen of Oberlin Christian Missionary Alliance Church. “If we had more people willing to sacrifice money that they might get back for the betterment of the whole community, Oberlin could be exactly what we want it to be,” he said.
Greg Jones, Providing Oberlin Energy With Efficiency Responsibly energy advocate, said the group has assisted 88 clients, but could help many more with additional money. He said becoming a model program could help POWER win the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize, which will be awarded to a community for innovative energy reduction.
“The steps we make here now can guide our future for years to come,” Jones said. “We can still be the bright light in the community and for the nation.”
However, the Burgess recommendations had two critics.
Tracie Haynes, Oberlin Underground Railroad Society executive director, said “poor and disenfranchised” people should create their own programs and services with the credit money. “This proposal will lay the groundwork for the system to trust poor residents with resources that could lift them out of poverty,” said Haynes, whose group runs the Phillis Wheatley Community Center, 89 South Main St.
Tony Mealy, a utilities commission member and frequent council critic, said the recommendations duplicate existing heating assistance and weatherization programs in Lorain County. “Do we really need to recreate programs and entities that have been in existence for the past 40 years?” he asked.
Average annual rebates for residential customers are only about $90 and would expire after three or four years. And commercial users such as Oberlin College and the Federal Aviation Administration would get the biggest rebates.
Nonetheless, councilwoman Sharon Soucy said many residents want 100 percent rebates. While she supports the 85 percent rebate recommendation, Soucy said she respects those who want it all back.
“For our city to have overcharged residents, however inadvertently, and then to make decisions about what we’re going to do with that money because we think we think we’re wiser than the individual resident, gives me some pause,” she said. “With many of our institutions, they are better equipped to decide energy efficiency programs that they can implement with these dollars than we as a council are.”
Council president Ron Rimbert said he’s sensitive to struggling businesses and residents who want maximum rebates. Council needs to balance their needs along with long-term energy savings.
“We have to be cognizant of everybody — not just one sector, but the whole community,” he said. “That’s all we’re trying to get to. A constant, consistent (plan) where everybody makes out in this. Not just some, but everybody.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.