As part of its electric service, the city of Westerville plans to begin offering customers a way to put their electricity payments toward renewable energy.

At a city council work session Jan. 9, electric utility manager Chris Monacelli introduced the idea of implementing renewable energy certificates.

The certificates are created each time a megawatt hour of renewable energy is generated from a source such as wind or solar power. The certificate "proves" that it comes from a renewable source.

Those certificates are then sold to electric providers, such as American Municipal Power, who would purchase the certificates on behalf of the Westerville Electric Division.

Monacelli said AMP has a wind-energy and solar farm in Bowling Green.

By signing up for an optional program called EcoSmart Choice, residents and businesses using Westerville electricity would be able to use 25, 50, 75 or 100 percent of their energy through the credits, which aims to incentivize the use of renewable energy.

Customers opting into the program would have $0.003 per kilowatt-hour as an extra charge on their bill.

According to Monacelli, the extra charge for a customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month would be $3. Monacelli said the average Westerville resident uses about 1,100 kilowatt-hours each month.

Monacelli said his department has fielded more requests for renewable energy sources in recent years, and the EcoSmart Choice program is part of a response to that.

"What we're finding is that sustainability initiatives are more popular than ever," he said. "Calls about renewable energy and solar panels are pretty frequent for us. I'm of the opinion that having access to renewable energy is going to be expected and even demanded (in the future)."

On the commercial side, Jason Bechtold, the city's economic development director, said his department is "very excited" about the idea because it would give the city "a competitive advantage" over nearby cities that don't have the option.

"At an all-time high right now, businesses are asking communities, 'What are your sustainable practices?' because part of their corporate culture is being sustainable," he said.

"I think there's complete awareness of their environmental footprint ... and also attracting talent. Millenials are very interested in knowing the environmental footprint of the company they work for," he said.

Monacelli also told council his department was looking into a program that would help manage power use during peak times for customers who have Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats.

The idea would be to program the thermostats to use less energy during peak times.

Council members directed city staffers to draft an official proposal for both programs. It will return to be voted on at a regular council meeting.