Worthington leaders have decided to place an energy-aggregation issue on the November ballot, turning the attention of city staff members to helping residents understand exactly what they will vote on.
Worthington City Council voted June 18 to advance the issue well ahead of the Nov. 6 general-election filing deadline, which is Aug. 8, according to the Franklin County Board of Elections website.
The measure – introduced in March by council members David Robinson and Doug Smith – is intended to pool residents' buying power in order to lower electric bills and invest in renewable energy by aggregating Worthington residents on the same plan and incorporating renewable-energy certificates, which fund clean-energy sources.
Residents would be able to opt out of the program at no cost. Opt-out aggregation programs – in which residents automatically would be enrolled and would have to choose not to participate in the program – require approval by residents in a citywide ballot issue, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio's website.
Consultants from Energy Alliances are heading up initiation of the program and would negotiate a deal with a supplier on the city's behalf, if voters approve the initiative.
Per an agreement, the consultant group would be paid only if the ballot issue is approved and a deal with a supplier is approved by City Council, in which case a fee would be worked into it, city officials said.
Energy Alliances COO Rich Surace previously said the plan calls for AEP to remain the electricity distributor and service provider, but the city would shop for a new electricity supplier in an effort to obtain the best financial deal and support the generation of clean energy. The latter could be accomplished by a supplier fitting renewable-energy certificates – each certificate representing an investment in one megawatt-hour of renewably generated energy, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency – into an agreement, he said.
City Council approved the following language for the ballot:
"Shall the City of Worthington, County of Franklin, Ohio have the authority to aggregate the retail electric loads located in the City and enter into service agreements to facilitate for those loads the sale and purchase of electric, such aggregation to occur automatically except where any person elects to opt-out?"
With that decided, city spokeswoman Anne Brown said staff members' attention has turned toward the education and outreach portion of the plan.
"Any time the city puts anything on the ballot, it is of critical importance that we explain the details of the issue to help voters make informed decisions," she said.
The city has added an explanation and a frequently asked questions page to its website at worthington.org/electric, and more information will be shared through the city's monthly electronic newsletter, Brown said.
She said the city also plans on mailing a "printed newsletter" that includes an explanation of the issue to every home in Worthington. She said she expects it to hit mailboxes in July, with a follow-up brochure coming near Election Day.
In addition, she said, "a series of information sessions" are planned throughout Worthington, including both public forums and "special presentations" to community groups and organizations.
In the meantime, Steve Gandee, Worthington's finance manager, has been designated to take the lead on questions from residents. His office number, 614-786-7353, has been posted on the city's website.
Gandee said he has received only a few calls thus far and is doing his best to help callers through parts of the process that confuse them.
"I don't have a script that I'm relaying to residents when they call in," he said. "It's really dependent on what kinds of questions they might ask."
Gandee said he thinks Worthington residents are a "fairly knowledgeable citizen base" and already might be familiar with the idea of alternative energy suppliers.
"You get inundated with the choice programs that have been around for a number of years now," he said. "So there are probably a fairly substantial number of residents who have been through that, whether they've selected a new provider or at least looked at the process."
Gandee said he is avoiding talking about the pros or cons of the aggregation program or its "green" initiative so that he can stay impartial. Instead, he said, he is focusing on making sure residents understand the process and how it will affect them.
"If there is something that they have a question about or are uncertain about, we'll try to get the answer for them," he said.
For program details, go to worthington.org/electric.