At Athens City Council’s Tuesday evening meeting, city council members discussed an ordinance that would put an opt-out Retail Solar Community Program on the May 8 ballot. 

The program, introduced by Eddie Smith, executive director of the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council and Athens township trustee, would be the first of its kind in Ohio. The program would charge individuals who do not opt out of the program a $1-2 a month carbon tax to encourage energy consumers to use less electricity. 

The money from that tax will be collected into a solar development fund, which will be used to add solar energy projects to public buildings in Athens. The program will also replace renewable energy certificates, which are currently purchased from wind farms in Texas, with more local certificates. The fund will help expand Athens’ solar projects, therefore allowing for more local solar certificates. 

The program will only fund solar programs in Athens, despite SOPEC representing the entire southeast Ohio region, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said. 

Several citizens spoke in support of the program during the meeting, including Ohio University Environmental Studies Outreach Coordinator Loraine McCosker. 

“We’re really in a state of climate emergency,” McCosker said. “This is an investment not only for the city of Athens, but for the nation as well. Everything that we’re doing right now has this tremendous impact on our environment.”

Mathew Roberts, a representative from environmental group Upgrade Ohio, also spoke in favor of the program. 

“This program is really designed to put solar on public buildings,” Roberts said. “That will have real monetary benefit over time, (because) those buildings will no longer have to pull electricity from the grid.” 

City Council members also suspended the rules and passed an ordinance allowing the mayor to enter an application for a Clean Ohio Trails Fund Grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 

The grant, totaling $250,000, would fund the renovation of a former Standard Oil gas station into a spur trailhead on Columbus Road. The location would be a transition station for the bike path with a bus stop and parking, Athens City Council member Peter Kotses, D-At Large, said. 

“The new bridge across the river would lead up to the gas station naturally,” Athens City Council President Chris Knisely said in a previous Post report. “We would use the (grant) to begin to convert the gas station into a place where people can park when they come to use the bike path.”

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