Calls for better use of energy conservation, efficiency fund

Steve Dupee, Oberlin Municipal Light & Power System electric director

Steve Dupee, Oberlin Municipal Light & Power System electric director

Sean Hayes, the Oberlin Project executive director

Restructuring Oberlin Municipal Light & Power System’s sustainable reserve fund will be discussed at Monday’s city council meeting.

Created in 2007, the approximately $400,000 fund is for energy conservation and efficiency programs.

It has been criticized by some council members and residents due to a lack of public access and distribution of money.

The importance of the fund is increasing. It will soon double in value due to council’s June 20 vote to rebate $2.2 million of about $2.6 million in Renewable Energy Credit money to ratepayers.

The remainder goes to the fund which is promoted by the nonprofit group Providing Oberlin With Efficiency Responsibly, known as POWER. Founded in 2008, the group does energy audits of homes and has helped more than 100 residents weatherize homes, according to its website.

Steve Dupee, Oberlin Municipal electric director, said he plans to outline revisions to the fund. Dupee said he will recommend to council that credit money be spent on municipal infrastructure energy improvements and enhancing current efficiency programs for businesses and residents.

“They could change those priorities, or add other priorities, but that would be our initial strategy,” he said.

Critics of the fund’s use include Sean Hayes, executive director of the Oberlin Project, a city/Oberlin College environmental and economic initiative. Hayes said there is little online information about the fund, making it harder for residents or groups to apply for grants from the fund. Hayes, an ex officio POWER board member, said that to apply for fund money people have to know who to call or email in advance rather than being able to easily access it online.

“That seems overly cumbersome,” he said.

At council public hearings in March, residents were urged to submit proposals for how to spend the credit money. Hayes, who had lobbied council to reinvest most of the credit money rather than rebating it, said he submitted two plans before council voted on the credits.

The first would use fund money to pay half of remaining costs, or up to $2,500, when Columbia Gas of Ohio does energy audits of businesses, churches, nonprofit groups, and schools. Columbia rebates 50 percent of the audits capped at $5,000 per customer.

It also rebates 50 percent of recommended improvements if the long-term savings will be more than the cost of improvements with a maximum of $100,000 per meter. Hayes proposes fund money rebate 50 percent of improvements not covered by Columbia with a maximum rebate of $50,000 per meter. He said the nearly $3 million program would save between $8.3 million and $13.6 million.

The second program would pay for residential energy audits, which cost between $50 and $500. It would also pay the remainder of costs after Columbia improvement rebates. Hayes said the program would weatherize 900 homes over five years and cost about $1.8 million. Estimated long-term savings are between $3.5 million and $5.2 million.

Hayes said he was disappointed he never heard back from council members about his proposals prior to the vote and that they weren’t put on Oberlin’s website. “I feel that my time, energy, and money has been squandered, ” he said in an email.

Hayes said in an interview that he’s uncertain fund reforms will occur or what will happen with a proposed “choice fund” in which ratepayers could refund their rebates for conservation and efficiency programs.

“While I’m hopeful, I’m also concerned,” he said.

Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.

Steve Dupee, Oberlin Municipal Light & Power System electric director Dupee, Oberlin Municipal Light & Power System electric director

Sean Hayes, the Oberlin Project executive director Hayes, the Oberlin Project executive director