Background on electric director’s comment

To the editor:

Evan Goodenow’s article on city council’s May 16 work session, “Energy credit talks focus on long-term savings,” was excellent. However, the electric director’s comment on the public utilities commission’s recommendation needs clarification.

The PUC spent much of 2014 discussing uses for renewable energy credit revenue. Many possibilities were considered: reduced electricity rates, promoting energy efficiency and conservation, expanding the Sustainable Reserve Fund, implementing a Climate Action Plan, and enhancing Efficiency Smart. Outside of PUC meetings, members also met in pairs and with the electric director.

Despite these discussions, in January 2015, the electric director recommended 100 percent be used to lower electricity rates. In response, the PUC voted 3-2 to spend 100 percent on investment, creating long-term savings for ratepayers. Benefits would accrue well into the future and be a few times greater than the REC dollars invested.

At a city council meeting on May 18, 2015, the electric director and a PUC majority presented separate recommendations. This outcome was unusual: the commission challenged staff’s recommendation. City council requested them to return with a comprehensive policy for REC revenue.

The PUC requested a legal review by the law director, who wrote: “Based on the authority of the decision in Union Ice, I conclude that the City has no legal obligation to electric utility customers in the disposition of the REC revenue and Council may, if it wishes, adopt the recommendation of the PUC.”

At PUC’s Aug. 25 meeting, the electric director gave his revised recommendation: 85 percent to lower electricity rates, 15 percent to SRF. The PUC majority gave its revised recommendation: 85 percent to SRF, 15 percent for betterment of Oberlin.

In December 2015, one of the PUC’s majority ended her term and was replaced by city council. Interestingly, city council did not interview all who applied for the position, including an exemplary candidate who had been director of physical facilities at Oberlin College and Case-Western Reserve.

In January 2016, without forewarning, a member of the PUC who had supported the electric director’s position called for another vote. A 3-2 majority now favored the electric director’s recommendation.

Carl McDaniel

Vice Chair, PUC