REC Reinvestment Upholds Oberlin’s Commitment to Sustainability

Editorial Board

The most pressing issue facing newly-elected City Council members is the allocation of Renewable Energy Certificates, a benefit of Oberlin’s EPA Green Power Partnership. RECs were originally intended to be reinvested in renewable energy and carbon reduction initiatives for communities to expand their green energy portfolio and abandon fossil fuels as energy sources. In 2007, the city decided to sell RECs to expand sustainable initiatives as part of its involvement with the Clinton Climate Initiative. According to the minutes from the Oct. 19 Council Work Session, City Council expects 2015 REC proceeds to total $776,000, bringing the full sum to $1.76 million. By the end of the 2016 calendar year, the projected net total of REC revenue is $2.5 million.

City Council is considering two options: reinvestment or paying taxpayers back via a rebate on their utility bill. Reinvestment is the better choice in the long term for Oberlin’s sustainability goals — this was the EPA’s original intent in creating RECs, and if the city wishes to have a 75-percent reduction from 2012-level greenhouse gases by 2030 and to be climate positive by 2050, reinvesting REC dollars in the Sustainable Reserve Program is the best option to reach those goals.

The Public Utilities Commission recommends reinvesting 85 percent of REC revenue in SRP, a move that would “provide funding for local, community based, utility-related, environmental-friendly initiatives demonstrating energy efficiency.” The PUC presents three areas of priority for the city’s reinvestment policy: municipal energy efficiency, expanding the Efficiency Smart program for commercial businesses and residents and investing in community-based initiatives.

City Council is also considering an opposing rebate proposal from Oberlin Municipal Light and Power: partially refunding RECS to taxpayers. Under this proposal, each customer would receive an average of $89 per year for three to five years. This would reduce each resident’s electricity bill about $7 a month for 36 to 60 months. However, these rates wouldn’t last. Once REC credits run out, the rebate would no longer exist. Oberlin College, as a taxpayer, would receive a rebate totaling $250,000, and it is improbable that the College would donate a quarter of a million dollars to the Sustainable Reserve Program when it could keep the funds for its own budget.

This proposal does have its charms — who doesn’t want to save anywhere between $267 and $445 on utilities, even if it’s only for a short amount of time? OMLP even gives concrete numbers, like saving $7 a month, whereas supporters of SRP speak in theoretical terms and concepts — “reinvestment” and “energy efficiency” aren’t terms that imply massive savings to the average Oberlin resident.

But the reality is that weatherization — air sealing, insulating or even replacing fridges or furnaces — could save each household up to $4,000 over a 10-year period. Additionally, reinvestment in SRP would install LED streetlights in public streets and provide rebates for households that pursue energy-efficient improvements. Anything from LED night-lights to occupancy sensors would reduce a household’s utility bills. Other community initiatives funded by SRP include upgrading the Underground Railroad Center, expanding OMPL’s tree-planting project, upgrading public infrastructure for biking and walking and providing some funding for the city’s purchase of hybrid or all-electric vehicles.

While the total cost for these community initiatives cannot be totaled monetarily, any move from fossil fuels and energy inefficiency will be a move in the right direction. The long-term benefits of reinvestment in renewable energy will outweigh any short-term benefits from OMLP’s rebate proposal.