Proponents of environmental protection will be happy to hear that Columbus citizens passed Issue 1, the Electric Service Aggregation Program Measure, with an overwhelming 75.55% of voters approving the measure.
According to the Dispatch, the issue was focused on clean energy, and the goal is for all Columbus citizens to be placed in an opt-in or opt-out program with American Electric Power. Tax rates will not rise, and citizens are pooled to increase purchasing power, but AEP will become the energy provider for the vast number of Columbus citizens who do not opt-out. The company pledges to provide $1 billion in new Ohio wind and solar energy by 2022, and the goal is for Columbus to eventually have 100% green energy.
The issue passing is surely a win for progressive groups concerned about the environment, but only if AEP is kept in check.
The problem begins with citizens’ ability to opt out of the program at any time, as opt-in opt-out programs have a fair chance of failing due to how fickle consumer bases can be. Consumers don’t need to provide a reason for opting out, and some opt out for no reason, which can’t be accurately projected by AEP. Furthermore, the city’s goal of having 100% green energy cannot be reached if citizens choose to rely on an energy company that is not pursuing renewable, environmental friendly sources of power.
However, the big issue is that AEP has no obligation to fulfill their end of the deal. ThisWeek reports that AEP has been the primary energy source for most of Columbus for at least 15 years, and the little competition previously has not affected AEP’s sales, so there is no good alternative energy provider for consumers to turn to if AEP fails to follow through with their pursuit of green energy. The bigger issue is that ThisWeek states the pledge is technically not binding, which means that AEP has no obligation to fulfill their end of the deal either. The pledge should be legally binding, as AEP is one of the biggest corporations in Ohio, and the city’s government cannot punish them monetarily without hurting their own economy.
AEP has stated that they aim for supplementing Columbus’ energy supply with cost-effective, distributed options, but this is misleading. AEP gets to determine what “cost effective” means, so they could supply poorly-made solar panels or wind turbines. To counteract this, Columbus would have to oversee the distribution of the options AEP gives and be more involved in the distribution to prevent AEP from cutting corners.
Putting a majority of all energy sourcing into one large mega-corporation is not the best option. However, it is important to remember that regardless of Issue 1 passing or not, AEP would still be the main power source in Columbus, so the decision will not greatly increase the size of their monopoly. The aggregation program will still benefit consumers, lower electricity prices and invest in green energy. There are certainly valid concerns with AEP’s handling of the program, and keeping a close eye on the process is necessary for any real change toward green energy.