Students should do all that they can to educate themselves before voting in the elections that are coming up this Tuesday, Nov. 7. I care deeply about Issues 16 and 17, which are focused on the City of Oberlin’s Renewable Energy Certificates. These certificates are the equivalent of money that the city has accumulated by using renewable energy, and Issues 16 and 17 will allow the voters of Oberlin to decide how the money will be spent. I am in agreement with many key city environmental figures to vote “YES” on 16 and “NO” on 17, and I support the investment of the money so that it can be used for important future sustainability projects.
In short, the city earns RECs by generating electricity from renewable sources. These RECs can then be bought, sold, and invested. Oberlin has accumulated an abundance of RECs because the type of certificates the city has acquired through Ohio landfill gas are worth significantly more than other kinds of renewable certificates. The city sold these high-priced RECs and used that money to buy cheaper out-of-state wind certificates, which resulted in a sizeable profit. Now, Oberlin has accumulated over two million dollars worth of REC revenue.
In 2007, City Council passed an ordinance creating the Sustainable Reserve Program — an account into which most of the REC proceeds were deposited— while some were held in another account with the city’s electric company, Oberlin Municipal Light and Power Systems. Since then, the SRP account has been used to fund six sustainability projects in Oberlin.
The large increase in REC revenue ignited a debate over the best use of the available funds. The director of the electric company thought RECs should strictly be used for projects related to electricity. For example, the director wanted to use the RECs to lower electricity rates for all ratepayers in the city by approximately $10 a month until the money would run out after a period of two or three years.
Issues 16 and 17 were placed on the ballot by Oberlin’s Citizens for Safe and Sustainable Energy to given the community agency in deciding how this money should be spent, and students can weigh in on this debate. By voting “YES” on Issue 16 (“Ordinance changing Oberlin City Sustainable Reserve Program Ordinance”) all of the revenue from RECs will go directly to the SRP Account and be invested. This issue also requires any changes made to the SRP be done through legislation. If this money is invested, the City of Oberlin will maintain its commitment to the Climate Action Plan by becoming carbon-neutral by 2020.
Issue 17 (“Oberlin City Community Choice Program Ordinance”) focuses on an ordinance passed in 2016 stating that 85 percent of RECs revenue should be dispersed to Oberlin’s top ratepayers, which include Oberlin College, Walmart, and the Federal Aviation Administration. Once all of these ratepayers’ electricity bills are reduced, it is through the “Community Choice Program” that they have the choice to give some or all of the saved money back to the city. Issue 17 is strictly a referendum on this ordinance, asking whether this Community Choice Program Fund should be adopted or not. Voting “NO” on Issue 17 will prevent the Community Choice Fund from being created and will allow all of the RECs to be used by the city. This will allow the city to further its effort of combating climate change through investing in sustainability projects.
All of these opinions and information regarding “Yes on 16/No on 17” are shared by many environmentalists in the Oberlin community. Such supporters include Community for Safe and Sustainable Energy, leaders in the Citizens Climate Lobby, and many professors in Oberlin College’s Environmental Studies department. These issues may not seem important to a temporary resident of Oberlin, but decisions like these can lead to big changes in the future.
The wise investment of REC revenue will return more value to the city and to ratepayers than the few dollars they would get by choosing not to invest. As students, it is important to take advantage of our right to vote here in Oberlin by voting “YES” on Issue 16 and “NO” on Issue 17. Take the arguments above seriously, educate yourselves on all ballot issues, and vote this upcoming Tuesday, Nov. 7. Students have made a difference before, and we can again.