2017 Candidates and Issues: Local Issues

To the Editors:

The letter from Steve Hammond and John Elder on Sept. 22, 2017 in The Oberlin Review, “Voters Can Correct City Council’s Mistakes,” provides solid reasons for voting “Yes” on City Issue 16 and “No” on City Issue 17. Critical to their recommendations are two letters from city law director, Jon Clark, who responded to questions from the City’s Public Utilities Commission.

In response to a request for a legal review of a proposed recommendation to City Council from PUC on the disposition of net Renewable Energy Credits revenues, Clark’s letter from April 13, 2015 stated, “Based on the authority of the decision in Union Ice, I conclude that the City has no legal obligation to electric customers in the disposition of the REC revenue and council may, if it wishes, adopt the recommendation of the PUC.” Simply put, RECs revenue does not belong to ratepayers, but to the city of Oberlin.

In response to a request for the status of the ordinance establishing the Sustainable Reserve Program, Clark’s letter from Sept. 18, 2015 on Ordinance No. 07-39 AC CMS stated, “There has been no repeal or modification of Ordinance 07-39 AC CMS since its passage in May of 2007.” This is important because if City Council wanted to do something different with RECs revenue than proposed by PUC in 2015, the ordinance needed to be repealed or modified.

Ordinance 07-39 AC CMS explicitly directs the finance director to “establish a Sustainable Reserve Program Account for the city of Oberlin for the sole purpose of depositing the revenues resulting from the sale of ‘green power’ attributes, the monies so deposited to be utilized to fund a Sustainable Reserve Program.”

Despite this clear statement on where “green power” revenue (RECs revenue) is to go, Clark’s Sept. 18, 2015 letter stated, “… Ordinance No. 07-39 AC AMS contains no requirement that all REC sale proceeds be deposited into that account.”

Issue 16 clarifies that “sole purpose” means “all REC revenue” by adding “all” to the ordinance so it reads, “directing that all net proceeds derived from the sale and repurchase of green power attributes be deposited into the Sustainable Reserve Program Account.”

The city is in an unusual position of having over two million dollars created by its wise choice in 2008 to abandon coal-based electricity and shift to renewable and carbon-neutral-based electricity, a decision many Oberlin College students supported with their votes. Now, the voters, by choosing to invest these monies, can leverage and increase significantly the impact of these funds on the quality of life in Oberlin.

If you think it wise to compound RECs revenue by investment to benefit Oberlin residents, businesses, and institutions, vote “Yes” on Issue 16 and “No” on Issue 17.

Carl McDaniel
Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies

A regrettable aspect of the public discourse surrounding the Renewable Energy Credits is that some electric customers have been led to believe that they overpaid for their electric utility and should receive a refund.

It certainly would be a serious issue if customers were being overcharged. However, surplus funds don’t come from customer payments but from wise transactions of credits gained by using “green energy” sources. Accumulated RECs reflect sound financial decisions by management and sound value decisions by citizens, guided by our Climate Action Plan.

When I read a letter in the Oberlin News-Tribune in March 2017 stating that Oberlin’s electric costs are “among the highest in the country,” I decided to test the veracity of that statement. I conducted a sampling by contacting electric users in various locations across the United States. Consumers calculated their “effective rate” — their monthly bill amount in dollars divided by kilowatt hours used. I found that Oberlin’s rate during January 2017 was the lowest at 9.87 cents/KW hour. Municipalities from five states reported rates of 12 to 22 cents. Three neighboring communities during the same period were at rates of 11.06, 13, and 13.67 cents. Over seven years, Oberlin’s average rate was 11.05 cents, the most recent year being 10.63 cents.

A valid case might be made to use the REC funds to reduce customer bills, but such an argument should not be based on false charges of comparatively high payments, which could help dissuade businesses and families from locating here. Changes in the political climate indicate that REC transactions will soon end. Applying the REC money to customers’ monthly payments will provide a small, short-term saving until the funds are used up. Then rates will soar. Applying the same funds to improve our community’s long-term electricity use and efficiency for all would be a gift that keeps on giving. If handled correctly, the RECs may be a valuable resource to the Oberlin community.

Linda Slocum is currently the vice-chair of Oberlin City Council and is running for her second term on council. Come to Azariah’s Cafe in Mudd library on Nov. 5 between 6 and 8:30 p.m. to share thoughts and ask her questions.

Linda Slocum
Vice-chair, Oberlin City Council

Vote YES on Issues 15 and 17 to ensure that Oberlin has funds for capital improvements to pay for fire and police vehicles and safety equipment, parks and cemetery improvements, street improvements, and maintenance, along with preserving ratepayer’s preference in regard to their utility cost.

Vote NO on Issue 16, which proposes to eliminate the Sustainable Reserve Program at a time that Oberlin College is experiencing a 5 million dollar deficit with enrollment down and tuition up, plus the recent buyout of staff and faculty and the hiring freeze at the College. It reminds me of 2009 when Barack Obama entered office. Do you think the new College President Carmen Ambar could use the electric rebate?

Also, there are many Oberlin families living paycheck to paycheck and businesses in town that are struggling on a monthly basis that could use this money pay back from the electric utility.

Consider these candidates and issues carefully when deciding your vote on Nov. 7, 2017. The best picks for Oberlin City Council are William Jindra, Kristin Peterson, Ronnie Rimbert, Kelley Singleton, and Linda Slocum. And remember to vote YES on Issues 15 and 17 and vote NO on Issue 16.

Tony Mealy
Member, Oberlin Public Utility Commission