Carbon Fee Before Athens Voters

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Athens voters will have to decide whether to enact a program promoting renewable energy with an optional carbon fee.

The SOPEC logo.

Households that chooses to pay the fee would see an increase of between $1.60 and $1.80 per month on their electric bills. The fee would fund the installation of solar panels on public buildings in Athens. The Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council has been promoting the fee as a way to save taxpayer dollars.

Why this fee?

Even if the fee is approved by voters, residents will have have the option to refuse to pay it. Such a decision would require those customers opting-out of the fee to also opt-out of any electrical aggregation program entered into by the local government.

Eddie Smith, director of SOPEC, said he believes voters have a good reason to vote for the measure.

“Carbon is really damaging to our economy,” he said. “We’re layering in some of those externalized damages to the economy so that customers have more of a price incentive to save energy.”

Simple things to save energy will more than make up for the cost of the fee according to Smith – even if the average household reduced energy consumption by two percent. He said that could be accomplished by something as simple as replacing four traditional light bulbs with LEDs.

“The whole challenge is to come up with a finance model to contribute to solar projects that would contribute to public solar,” he said.

The fee would help support more local solar options similar to the one at the Athens Community Center which operates 936 solar panels.

Photo of the 936 Solar Panels at the Athens Community center.

Tax or fee?

At every step of the process Athens officials and SOPEC have referred to the added cost as a fee not a tax. But media coverage of this ballot issue referred to the fee as a tax. But because the measure allows residents to opt out, it is being promoted as a fee.

“The carbon fee, which is not a tax, is no different than an administration fee that you would see on your utility bill,” Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said. He is also vice chair of the SOPEC Board of Directors.

The fee is expected to raise an additional $8,000-$10,000 a year.