| The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus residents will decide in November whether to approve Issue 1, an “opt-out” green-energy electricity aggregation plan that promises to supply 100% of the city’s power needs with renewable energy by 2023.
Details of the plan are to be worked out after the vote – including how much the power will cost residents on their monthly bills, as well as when and where the wind and solar farms proposed by contract-winner AEP Energy will be constructed.
The plan would automatically enroll every Columbus residential and small-business owner into a contract to purchase electricity from AEP Energy, a subsidiary of Columbus-based power giant AEP. But anyone dissatisfied with the terms or details can file to opt out of the plan and purchase their power from the many retail suppliers already marketing plans in Ohio.
Those choosing to stay with the plan will get periodic windows, perhaps once every three years, according to planning documents reviewed by The Dispatch, to opt out of the program in the future, and those who opt out also can choose to opt back in. AEP Energy predicted in its proposal that 10% to 20% of customers may opt out.
It is this freedom of choice that promises to make whatever plan gets put before residents financially competitive with current options for power, supporters say. Under Ohio law, residents can group together to negotiate better prices and cleaner supply, by leveraging thousands of residents into a single purchasers.
“Issue 1 represents the biggest opportunity our community has to fight climate change,” said City Councilman Rob Dorans, who has helped to usher the measure through committee, hearings and onto the ballot.
“Additionally, Issue 1 will help us create hundreds of new clean-energy jobs that come with a living wage and retirement and health-care benefits. These renewable energy jobs are going to be created somewhere; why not here in Columbus and across Ohio? Finally, a community choice aggregation program allows the city to use our collective bulk buying power to get a competitive electricity rate for residents.”
The only organized opposition to the plan to date has come from the Ohio coal industry, which potentially could lose sales as green power replaces coal-fired generation.
Michael D. Cope, president of the Ohio Coal Association, is doubtful that AEP Energy can really provide all the new power sources needed by the city of Columbus by the start of 2023, calling it “at best a fairy tale and at worst a fraud.
“The city is asking its voters to approve an ‘opt-out’ plan that will provide 100% local renewable energy for its consumers,” Cope said in a written statement Monday. “That is simply NOT POSSIBLE.”
“Building so much capacity in one of the cloudiest and calmest regions of Ohio is ridiculous,” Cope said.
AEP spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said that Ohio still will have plenty of varying generation resources after the new green generation is added, “including renewables in surrounding states, to provide backup generation capacity at times when weather might not support full utilization of local renewable generation.”
Columbus has handled its creation somewhat differently than is typical, choosing AEP Energy before knowing whether voters would approve a plan and before determining at what price it planned to sell electricity to residents.
Normally, an aggregation consultant would negotiate with multiple power suppliers to reach a final mix of green-energy production such as wind and solar, and at the same time quote a price to allow the weighing of competing proposals.
But Columbus’ program, reportedly the third-largest aggregation contract in the country and one in which AEP Energy has agreed to spend $1 billion to provide 100% of the city’s power through new Ohio wind and solar farms, and not by “certificates” issued to already-existing green-energy providers around the nation, will be different.
For such a large project, “you want to be aligned with the right partners,” said Rich Surace, chief operating officer at Energy Alliances, the Cincinnati-based aggregation consultant that helped Worthington craft a much smaller aggregation plan in 2018 that – unlike the Columbus plan – relied not on newly constructed local generation but “credits” to purchase green power elsewhere on the market.
But AEP Energy has left open the possibility that it won’t be able to meet its tight schedule of 100% new Ohio-based green generation by the start of 2023 due to siting regulatory issues. Until it can be constructed, AEP Energy could end up temporarily purchasing credits for a portion of the power, officials say.