Columbus has been quietly pushing full steam ahead on an aggressive timeline for a new green-energy aggregation program that might result in local wind and solar farms being constructed by 2022, shooting for a 100% goal of green power.
Just after Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced in mid-February that he would pursue a community-choice energy-aggregation program to reach 100% green power by 2022, the city was rocked by the coronavirus crisis and then police-brutality protests and riots.
But the project, which would allow the city to negotiate purchases of electricity in bulk to get lower rates and cleaner generation, has been quietly moving forward and is on final approach.
“I would say that certainly now is a good time to be reaching out to the city with input on the program design,” Erin Beck, director of special projects for Ginther, said at a virtual public hearing on the proposal Tuesday evening.
The deadline for requests for proposals from businesses wanting to be the city’s energy supplier passed on Monday. Those proposals hold the key to what the city’s aggregation program might initially look like in terms of the mix of carbon-free power-generation sources— including wind, solar and nuclear – and how much of it is locally generated.
Columbus City Council is to vote July 20 on filing the paperwork for a November ballot issue that would “fundamentally change the way that the community addresses energy and climate change,” said Councilman Rob Dorans.
The city and its provider will work together “as to what the actual design of the program looks like,” Beck said. If voters approve the measure, details of the plan must then be submitted to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for its approval.
The entire project is on a tight timeline, with a goal of having a new supply in place by the summer of 2022. Before then, the provider might need to go through a complicated approval process and build large- or small-scale local wind or solar generating facilities, said Kimberly Bojko, general counsel for Trebel Energy, the city’s aggregation consultant.
Generation facilities of a certain size require the approval of the Ohio Power Siting Board, which means a process of public hearings, “so, yes, there needs to be some time,” Bojko said.
The city accepted proposals before knowing whether voters would approve the plan because it wanted to see which suppliers could meet the 2022 deadline, “to see if they already have local generation, see what their suggestions are, their lag time for building or constructing,” Bojko said.
Asked if the city’s timeline is limiting what ultimately could be done and who could do it, Dorans acknowledged that Ginther’s deadline is aggressive, but he said that the plan would evolve over supply contracts lasting typically four or five years.
Finding suppliers who have “shovel-ready clean-energy projects ready to go that have permitting approved by the state of Ohio” will determine how quickly the city meets the 100% goal, Dorans said.
Local generation will be a key component because of what it means for cleaner Columbus air and jobs, Dorans said.
Part of the Columbus goal probably will be met through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates, which give wind and solar producers a revenue stream beyond sales of the electricity they produce. By buying and “retiring” the certificates, consumers can claim to be carbon-free even if the electricity they use comes from coal because they are promoting green production elsewhere.
The only aggregation business to testify Tuesday was AEP Energy, a subsidiary of Columbus energy giant AEP, whose chief lobbyist, Maria Haberman, highlighted the firm’s Integrated Renewable Energy product as a good solution for Columbus. It bundles power from a “portfolio of new local renewable assets into a competitively priced retail energy product,” while eliminating the risk of directly contracting with plant developers, Haberman said.
The number of businesses that submitted proposals and their identities were not disclosed at the hearing, but Dorans said he believe about five submitted plans.
If voters approve the measure, residents wouldn’t be required to participate; anyone can opt out.
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