RECs Resolution Not Based on Compromise

Charles Peterson, Oberlin Resident

To the Editors:

As a former member of the Oberlin City Council, I appreciate the effort of The Oberlin Review to report on local community issues, such as last week’s article headlined “Local Petitions Challenge REC Choice Fund Options” (March 31, 2017).

However, both the headline and the story miss the point of the petitions. The issue the petitioners want to put on the November ballot is whether 85 percent of the money the City earned from trading its renewable energy certificates should be used for “community-based, utility-related, environmentally-friendly initiatives,” as City Council determined in passing the Sustainable Reserve Program Ordinance in 2007, or instead diverted into an artificial reduction of electric rates. This diversion would fool rate-payers into thinking electricity is cheaper than it really is. It would also deprive the city of money to accomplish the goals of Oberlin’s Climate Action Plan at the very time when both federal and state funding for environmental sustainability is severely threatened.

I have no problem with forming a Community Choice Fund that would accept donations for beneficial purposes. But I think it is foolish to credit Sustainable Reserve Program funds to rate-payers in a way that — in the words of the Review article — “allows residents to donate their share of the city’s Renewable Energy Credits back to the city to further sustainable energy projects.” All the REC money is already designated “to further sustainable energy projects”! Why give it away and then pay a PR firm to try to get it back?

The quotations from Finance Director Sal Talarico and Councilmember Sharon Fairchild-Soucy are very misleading. Contrary to what Mr. Talarico said, the REC money can indeed be used for private homes — that is exactly what Providing Oberlin with Efficiency Responsibly, which is largely financed by RECs, is being used for: to make private homes more energy-efficient and more comfortable, lowering utility bills and helping the environment.

Ms. Fairchild-Soucy said, “The people who want to keep it all, all have made the statement that $10 doesn’t make a difference in the lives of citizens.” To the contrary, the petitioners know that $10 can make a big difference, so doubling that in monthly utility bill savings through programs like POWER is really important. I am baffled by her statement that “the hard work and months of discussion that went into the compromise would be negated and all efforts to turn REC dollars into active programs would be stalled.” There never was a compromise; the 85/15 split was forced through council on a surprise motion. And council, which just voted continuation of funding for POWER — a very active program indeed — can continue to fund such efforts.

The utility bills issued to Oberlin College students who are registered voters in the city are reminders of the fact that students are the College’s actual rate-payers, so the use of the REC money is a legitimate student concern. The other members of the petition committees and I welcome the Review’s ongoing coverage of this issue.

– Charles Peterson
Oberlin resident