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Clean Energy Ballot Measure Headed For Columbus Council

solar panals
Carl Attard

Columbus voters could soon decide whether to earmark nearly $60 million for various clean energy efforts.

Under the local initiative, Columbus would establish three, $5 million funds to promote energy conservation, green education and training programs, and clean energy minority business development.

John Clarke from the Columbus Clean Energy Initiative says local officials would oversee the funds, and determine how the dollars will be spent. He suggests incentives for purchasing energy efficient appliances or scholarships for green job training as potential options.

"They’re all collectively designed to promote clean energy, a clean energy economy, clean energy awareness, and to change the behavior and practices of people toward that purpose," Clarke says of the funds.

But Clarke explains the largest portion of the proposed ordinance, worth $42 million, would provide subsidies to electric customers who switch to green providers.

“It’s already something that you can do, the subsidy is to encourage you to choose a provider that produces their power using wind or solar,” he says.

The measure will first go before Columbus City Council. They can vote to approve it, or send it along to the ballot in November.

In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman for city council voiced concerns about the plan.

“The City will review the potential impacts of this plan in the coming weeks, but also must advance it as required by the Charter for petitions," she writes. "That said, Council is concerned about any proposal to divert tens of millions of dollars away from City services to an unknown entity with limited public oversight.”

A spokeswoman for Mayor Andrew Ginther raised similar doubts about the proposal.

“We are evaluating the petition, but we have serious concerns," the statement reads. "The dollar amount would be 6% of the city’s operating budget, which is more than what we spend annually on Public Health, Public Service or Recreation and Parks.  It would also give the petitioners authority to spend taxpayer dollars without oversight.”

The language of the ordinance directs City Council to pass legislation directing how money in the three new funds would be spent, and requires the City Auditor to produce quarterly reports on dollars are being spent. But the largest share of funding—the $42 million for electric customer subsidies—would be managed by an outside organization selected by the initiative's backers. The proposal gives the city auditor and city attorney the job of crafting an agreement, subject to city council approval.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.