Oberlin Municipal Light and Power System customers will share about $2.2 million in rebates from the roughly $2.6 million profits earned by the utility from Renewable Energy Credits.
The remainder will go into Oberlin Municipal’s approximately sustainable reserve fund. The fund has about $400,000 in it, said Doug McMillan, Oberlin Municipal’s energy services manager on Tuesday. It will be spent on energy conservation and efficiency programs designed to increase long-term savings and decrease pollution.
City council members approved the 85-15 percent split Monday but didn’t say when the rebates would begin.
Council president Ron Rimbert and members Scott Broadwell, Kelly Singleton, and Sharon Soucy voted yes. Council members Bryan Burgess and Linda Slocum voted no. Councilwoman Sharon Pearson was absent. She previously voted no.
The credits are pollution offsets OMLPS sold to energy companies in other states, allowing them to be in compliance with stricter clean energy standards without actually reducing pollution. A credit represents one megawatt hour. A megawatt — one million watts — provides energy for about 600 homes annually.
While other utilities were using the offsets to maintain compliance, OMPLS actually reduced pollution by buying landfill gas and wind energy as part of Oberlin’s goal of generating fossil-free energy by 2050. The utility expects to generate 87 percent of its electricity fossil-free by next year.
However, decreasing pollution has meant increased cost. Customers paid an extra $1.8 million between 2012 and last year for clean energy rather than coal, according to Steve Dupee, OMLPS director. And rates are expected to increase due to higher than estimated hydroelectric power costs.
Dupee has said the average residential customer will pay $1,149 next year, up 27 percent from 2013. The rebates are designed to help cushion rate hikes although residential customers will only receive about $90 annually with the rebates expiring in three or four years.
Commercial customers will receive the biggest rebates. Oberlin College, the utility’s biggest customer, will receive $415,081. The Federal Aviation Administration is second at $181,011.
Proponents of the 85-15 split said customers have been overcharged and deserve the rebate from the nonprofit utility. Opponents said the credit profits are owned collectively by ratepayers and more investment in conservation and efficiency would yield far greater long-term benefits.
The vast majority of speakers at several public hearings on the credits asked that most of the credit money be reinvested rather than rebated.
Burgess and Slocum sought a 50-50 split. “Given the kinds of rigorous discussions we’ve had, that would be a very good show of consensus,” Slocum said.
Councilman Kelley Singleton at council’s June 6 meeting voted against the 85-15 split — sponsored by Broadwell — citing unanswered questions about how the reserve fund money would be spent. However, Singleton said the proportion of the 85-15 split “was never truly in question” and he didn’t want to further delay the process.
“Though we may be strongly divided on this part, I hope moving forward we will be able to work together for the betterment of the city and all its citizens in a less fractious way,” he said. “Debate on what comes next could be the opportunity to come together and come out on the other side of this as a stronger governing body.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Photos by Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News Tribune Councilwoman Linda Slocum