Athens City Council members have proposed a ballot issue for the May 8 election that would encourage energy consumers to use less electricity.

The Retail Community Solar Program, introduced by Eddie Smith, an Athens township trustee and executive director of the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council, is an opt-out program that would tax Athens residents who choose not to opt out a $1-2 per month carbon fee. 

The tax revenues collected from that fee would be deposited into a fund that would contribute to solar power projects on public buildings in Athens. As Athens’ solar portfolio grows, renewable energy certificates that are currently purchased from wind farms in Texas would be transferred to local solar options. 

The City of Athens Energy Action Plan — a component of the Athens City Sustainability plan — calls for several major goals to accomplish by 2020, Smith said. The Retail Community Solar Program, the first of its kind in Ohio, would help accomplish those goals. 

By 2020, the Energy Action Plan calls for a 20 percent reduction in residential energy consumption, a 20 percent increase in renewable energy resources in residential and municipal buildings and a 20 percent increase in installed solar technology. 

“Folks in the community want clean energy but they may not have access,” Smith said. “The whole challenge is to come up with a finance model to contribute to solar projects that would contribute to public solar.” 

If enrollment in the program stays the same and citizens who choose not to opt out reduce electricity consumption by 20 percent, $200,000 will be collected for the Community Solar Program. 

The program is through SOPEC, and although the council represents the entire southeast Ohio region, the program will only fund solar programs in Athens, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said at the Jan. 16 Athens City Council meeting.

Many Athens residents have spoken in support of the proposed ballot issue. Mathew Roberts, info and outreach director for environmental group UpGrade Ohio, said the program would have many positive benefits for Athens. 

“The program encourages people to be more energy conscious,” Roberts said. “It’s based on how much energy you use. The less energy you use, the less you pay. The goal is energy conservation and the end result is community solar.” 

Ohio University Environmental Studies Outreach Coordinator Loraine McCosker also spoke in favor of the program during Athens City Council’s Jan. 16 meeting. 

“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.”

@bloodbuzzohioan

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