Student Vote Critical for REC Investment Decision

Carl McDaniel, OC ’64, Visiting Professor, Oberlin City Public Utilities Commissioner

To the Editors:

A major issue of concern to Oberlin students is now before City Council: what to do with several million dollars earned from exchanging renewable energy credits. A bit of history is informative.

In 2008, four newly-elected Council members, elected in part because of student votes, caused the city to reverse the action of the previous Council that had committed the city to a 50-year contract guaranteeing continued reliance on coal-based electricity. Council’s action then not only switched Oberlin’s dependence on coal to “green” sources of electricity but also earned the city many RECs. Three incumbent candidates running for City Council today — Soucy, Broadwell, Rimbert — voted then for coal and against withdrawal.

RECs were created by states to counter climate change by replacing fossil fuel electricity with renewable and carbon-neutral electricity. The REC market that emerged permits the city to swap high dollar value RECs for lower-priced RECs. This keeps Oberlin’s electricity “green” while generating millions of dollars.

The city’s attorney has stated that REC dollars belong to the city and can be spent as City Council decides, including as stated in city ordinance no. 07-39 that created the Sustainable Reserve Fund in 2007 to house monies paid to the city by the College for hydro-RECs.

Oberlin’s Public Utilities Commission has recommended to City Council that most REC revenues, perhaps 85 percent, go into the Sustainable Reserve Fund to be used for energy efficiency, energy conservation, greenhouse gas reductions and/or development of green power generation sources as stated in the above ordinance, and that the remainder be spent for betterment of the Oberlin community.

The College and city are committed to be climate-positive by 2025 and 2050, respectively, with the city reducing its heat-trapping gas emissions 75 percent from 2012 level by 2030. Achieving these goals will increase dramatically Oberlin community’s economic and environmental sustainability as well as our resilience and social justice.

We need to ask ourselves: Who among the 14 candidates believes these goals must be aggressively pursued? The League of Women’s Voter Guide provides the answer in a candidate’s recommendation for use of REC dollars.

The three incumbents, who voted for coal, do not elect to aggressively address climate chaos. Ashenhurst, Burgess, Comings, Mathews, McKibben, Meadows, Pearson, Slocum and Sokoll favor investing most REC dollars to reduce heat-trapping gases that cause climate instability, social injustice and cost money. Think Katrina, Sandy and California’s current drought and fires.

The situation is dire now because the current City Council leaders, Broadwell (president) and Soucy (vice president), have put on Council’s Nov. 2 agenda the directing of staff to research and bring back a proposal to City Council to use REC revenue to lower by about a penny the kWh charge for electricity. The average resident’s monthly cost would go down about $7 a month. Rates will be artificially depressed for a few years while REC revenue lasts, then rates jump up.

Investments through the Sustainable Reserve Fund will lower rates substantially more and long into the future.

Please keep in mind which candidates support your wishes concerning how REC dollars can be put to work to gain the greatest benefit for College and City residents and beyond. Remember too, student votes were critical in 2007, as they will be in next Tuesday’s City Council election.

Go to “Oberlin City Council Candidates 2015 YouTube” to see and hear the nine candidates who elected to participate in this public service video. Pick the seven best to get your votes. Do vote!

Carl McDanielOC ’64

Visiting Professor, Oberlin City Public Utilities Commissioner