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Columbus Starts Changeover To Clean Energy Sources

The headquarters of AEP in Columbus, Ohio.
Ryan Hitchcock
The headquarters of AEP in Columbus, Ohio.

Letters are hitting mailboxes around Columbus explaining big changes to electricity service in the city, thanks to a local ballot measure approved by voters last year.

Starting in June, the city’s default energy supplier will begin relying on 100% renewable sources. That means unless consumers opt out, their home is going to be getting a bit greener.

The changeover comes from the passage of Issue 1 in November, a measure known as a "community choice aggregation initiative" — essentially, the community deciding to pool its buying power to attract an energy supplier.

Columbus had some significant asks of a potential supplier: All energy would have to come from renewable sources, there was a strong preference for building new power generation facilities, and the company would have to partner with the city on a workforce development program.

Columbus got bids from EnergyHarbor, WGL Energy, Dynergy, and the eventual winner, AEP Energy, a subsidiary of AEP Ohio.

Mayor Andrew Ginther’s director of special projects, Erin Beck, explains eligible residents in Columbus are beginning to get letters explaining the switch this week.

“They’ll then have 21 days they return the letter, or contact AEP Energy if they do not want to participate,” Beck explains. “However, if a resident does want to participate, and again receive 100% Ohio-based clean energy, they do not have to take any action.”

The changeover starts June 1, but the Ohio portion of that clean energy is a little further down the road.

“For the first year, the program is going to be supported by renewable energy credits, and this is basically going to create a bridge to get us to that Ohio-based wind and solar,” Beck says.

She says those credits are tied to Midwest-based hydroelectric and waste heat recovery facilities. The plan is to have new renewable facilities closer to home coming online next summer.

The program’s inclusion of new renewable infrastructure got plaudits from environmentalists, even as they urge the city to do more to reduce emissions. When Columbus City Council sent the measure to the ballot last July, the Sierra Club’s local Ready For 100 campaign issued a press release praising the move.

“Columbus is already using energy efficiency programs to lower emissions, and now is announcing the intention to prioritize clean energy development in the region,” volunteer Rachel Wagner wrote. “When there is a firm commitment to renewable sources and local jobs, Community Choice Aggregation is a smart first step to get toward a future that is environmentally and economically healthy.”

The shift in energy suppliers will likely be a boon for AEP Energy, and the company helped bankroll the initiative’s campaign, committing $1.5 million to the effort in a memorandum of understanding signed with the city. Because the program automatically shifts consumers to AEP Energy unless they opt out, it seems likely the company will have a bulk of Columbus energy customers added to its rolls.

The impact that will have on an individual’s energy bill is a bit less clear.

“We know that the cost for the program for the Clean Energy Columbus program is going to be $0.0549 per kilowatt hour,” Beck says about AEP Energy’s pricing for the coming year.

How that compares to the existing supplier, AEP Ohio, is a bit out of reach for now. According to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, AEP Ohio updates its rates five times a year. The next one takes effect June 1, and they’ll likely submit those rates to state regulators sometime next month.

AEP Energy’s rate for will hold steady for the first year at the $0.0549/kWh level, and looking back over the past year and a half of AEP Ohio rates, that is slightly higher—about half a cent per kilowatt hour more on average. During the time frame, AEP Ohio’s rate averaged $0.0508/kWh with a peak of $0.0542/kWh and a low of $0.0464/kWh.

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.