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Columbus City Council To Pass Controversial Green Energy Ballot Initiative

Columbus City Hall
David Holm
Columbus City Hall

The Columbus City Council is expected to pass a controversial ballot initiative Monday night that would fund green energy programs. However, the council members feel their hands are tied.

According to the ballot summary, the ordinance would give a total of $87 million to three different green energy initiatives to fund energy conservation, minority clean energy businesses and the reduction of electricity cost for city residents.

The petition for the ballot was initially denied by city council in December, which led petitioners from a group called ProEnergy Ohio LLC to appeal it. Despite pushback against the ordinance by city council members, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in April that city council would have to put it on the November ballot.

Council member Rob Dorans said the group that petitioned for this ordinance was not specific about what where the money would go, which was why city council initially denied the petition request.

"We think this is bad public policy, we don't think this is good for the citizens of Columbus, we don't think this is good for our budgets, this is not good for clean energy development," Dorans said.

Dorans added that the council does not feel comfortable sending a large amount of the city's spending budget, around 10%, to a group he believes has not been transparent with the public with what they want to do with the money.

"That's not something the council's particularly supportive of, handing over tens of millions of dollars to unaccountable folks to work on something as vague as clean energy," he said.

In December, John A. Clark, who was part of the initiative for the ordinance, was indicted with two counts of election falsification and two counts of tampering with records, according to court records.

Connie Gadell-Newton, an attorney who represents the petitioners, says that while the city may be suspicious about where the money is going, the group believes they have been specific in how they will use the money, such as funding scholarships for students who want to study programs related to clean energy.

"It's an investment in our future both in the people of Columbus and our minority communities, and really for all of us," Gadell-Newton said.

She added that she believes the city has tried to deny ballot initiatives from community groups in the past like they did with ProEnergy Ohio LLC, because they "didn't like the substance" of the issue.

Dorans said council was supportive of Issue 1, which started an energy aggregation program that allowed residents to have access to renewable energy and will continue to work on initiatives in the future to reduce the city's carbon footprint.

However, when November rolls around, he said they will not encourage people to vote for the ordinance.

"That's not the best way for us to go about funding efforts to focus on fighting climate change here in Columbus," Dorans said.

Michael Lee joined WOSU in 2021, but was previously an intern at the station in 2018. He is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism where he obtained his master's degree, and an alumnus of Ohio State University. Michael has previously worked as an intern at the Columbus Dispatch and most recently, the Chicago Sun-Times.