Solar powered marketing not so cheap after all


To the editor:

Last week I erroneously wrote that calling the Hotel at Oberlin “solar powered” was a “cheap marketing trick.” Actually, it is quite expensive.

The financial model for the OSSO PV Array called for Oberlin College to sell its solar RECs into Ohio’s REC market and replace them with cheaper wind RECs – much as the city has done to generate its REC revenue. In 2013, solar RECs commanded a higher price than landfill gas RECs. OSSO’s REC sales yielded the college more than $200,000 additional revenue through 2014. But the college stopped selling its solar RECs after that foregoing as much as $100,000 in potential REC revenue for 2015. During this time Ohio REC values dropped. Yet even today OSSO’s annual solar RECs are valued at $45,000.

Holding OSSO’s solar RECs is required to build the mythology that the solar array provides “on-site” renewable power for the Hotel at Oberlin. The USGBC offers up to eight LEED points for on-site renewable power, whereas it only awards three points for off-site renewable energy credits (already part of the OMLPS power stream). The college is apparently willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for these five extra LEED points and the associated publicity.

LEED certification is known to add to the cost of design and construction. But here, in addition to revenue already lost, the college will continue to spend $20,000 per year (in lost REC revenue) to buy these five LEED points. Is LEED certification really worth such an ongoing expense — a kind of franchise fee?

While threatening to downsize its work force the college has remained silent while city council contemplates keeping $200,000 in annual excess electric charges from the college (the city’s REC revenue).

When did green publicity become more important than fiscal responsibility at Oberlin College?

John Scofield