REC ‘over-payments’ and other Halloween tales

To the editor:

Confusion about the electric utility’s Renewable Energy Credits continues to arise from Halloween darkness. Let’s shed some light on the phantom that Oberlin electric utility customers overpaid for their service and should be visited by a refund.

It’s scary business if customers were overcharged for electricity. But listen! The surplus REC funds did not come from customer payments but from wise use of credits gained by using mostly “green energy” sources for our electricity. These accumulated REC funds reflect both sound financial decisions by management and sound value decisions by our citizens. Cobwebs cleared.

It’s been rumored that OMLPS energy costs are “among the highest in the country.” To see if this phantom should be returned to the grave, I conducted an informal survey by contacting electric users in various U.S. locations. I asked people to calculate their “effective rate,” the amount in dollars of their monthly bill divided by the kilowatt hours used. Oberlin’s rate during January 2017 was the lowest at 9.87 cents per kilowatt-hour. Representative municipalities from five states reported rates of 12 to 22 cents per kilowatt-hour. Locally during the same period, Lorain County Rural Electric billed 13.67 cents, Ohio Edison 13 cents, and Amherst 11.06 cents. Over seven years, Oberlin’s average rate was 11.05 cents, the most recent year being 10.63 cents. Not so scary after all.

Even though the ghost of over-payment is laid to rest, a reasonable case could be resurrected to use REC funds to lower monthly utility payments. The largest customers get the largest credits. But beware — changes in the political climate loom that probably have made this a one-time windfall. Applying the funds to individual customer bills would provide a very small, short-term monthly saving to individuals until the funds are used up. Applying the same funds in ways which improve our community’s long-term electricity use and efficiency, for individuals, nonprofits, and businesses, would be a gift that keeps on giving for all our citizens. Properly understood and treated kindly, the RECs may not be a vampire in disguise, but a valuable Halloween treat!

Linda Slocum