Columbus and Grove City should stick with Clean Energy

Note: The following op-ed piece by Simply Living Executive Director Cathy Cowan Becker appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on June 19, 2021. You can read it on the Dispatch site here

Voters in Columbus and Grove City approved electric aggregation for 100% renewable energy in November.

As chair of Ready for 100 Ohio, now executive director of Simply Living, I was heavily involved in both campaigns.

As Columbus and Grove City implement aggregation, there has been a lot of confusion. I hope to clear some things up — and explain why these programs are so groundbreaking.

One question is cost.

The current price for electricity in Clean Energy Columbus is 5.499 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s about 1/10 of a cent more than the current AEP price to compare of 5.36 cents/kwh. Grove City has not launched its electric aggregation program and does not yet have a price.

In my household, the Columbus program works out to a difference of $1.12 on my average utility bill. Why should I pay $1.12?

Because Clean Energy Columbus is a value-added program.

Electric aggregation in both Columbus and Grove City call for 100% renewable energy supplied by solar and wind projects constructed here in Ohio. That will significantly clean our grid, improve public health and create Ohio jobs.

According to Environmental Protection Agency modeling, 700 MW of renewable energy to supply Columbus could result in $210 million in health care savings over 20 years, including 22 fewer premature deaths and 654 fewer breathing illnesses.

So far, Clean Energy Columbus has created about 100 jobs. As facilities to supply our clean energy go online, that will create hundreds more.

Clean Energy Columbus will also generate $1.7 million each year in community grants prioritizing low-income neighborhoods and communities of color — including support for energy efficiency upgrades, workforce development and a possible green bank.

Another question is who is eligible for electric aggregation. While all Columbus and Grove City residents could vote on Issue 1 and Issue 10, the programs will cover about two-thirds of residents and businesses. Not eligible are those on federal low-income payment plans, large businesses with their own energy contracts and residents who have other energy contracts.

After a bidding process, Clean Energy Columbus contracted with AEP as its utility supplier. That means customers of the Columbus Division of Power are not eligible.

This might seem odd because the city’s utility is not currently using 100% clean energy. The Division of Power buys electricity from American Municipal Power, which is about two-thirds from fossil fuels. However, as these buying contracts run out, the division intends to move to 100% clean energy.

The final question is what eligible residents and businesses must do to get into the clean energy aggregation program.

The answer is: nothing.

For eligible customers in both Columbus and Grove City, the clean energy program is opt-out. You will be automatically included unless you choose not to be. If you get mail asking you to take steps to opt in, that’s not a city program.

Eligible customers will get an opt-out notice every three years, and anyone can opt out at any time with no penalty. But I urge you to stay in the Columbus clean energy program, and the Grove City program once it comes online.

Clean Energy Columbus is the largest clean energy aggregation program outside California and the third-largest in the country. This program creates jobs, cleans our air, improves our health and invests in our community — all for a competitive price.

Let’s stick with it.

Cathy Cowan Becker is executive director of Simply Living in Columbus and a member of the sustainability committees in both Columbus and Grove City.

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