Comments from a Bowling Green resident about solar power policy in the city drew some sharp words from council at Tuesday’s meeting.
Joseph DeMare spoke about some changes in utilities policy regarding solar panels. DeMare spoke to council on the same matter during its Feb. 1 meeting.
He asked council to reverse the policies and said he took issue with some explanations offered by Utilities Director Brian O’Connell.
DeMare said a new $4 fee per installed kilowatt of solar panels per month “is way too high. … He’s penalizing us for the electricity we don’t buy. … It’s exactly the same as if I were to conserve power in my home.”
He also said there had been no justification for what he said was a cut in the credit received for the energy solar panels generate and put back on the grid.
DeMare said O’Connell had characterized the fees as being necessary because those with solar power are not paying their fair share of costs for infrastructure.
“This is, on the face of it, immediately untrue, because we do pay our fair share. We pay the full price for electricity” as other residents, DeMare said. “It’s the same for every owner of solar power in the city of Bowling Green.”
DeMare said that “almost two years ago to the day I stood before the Ohio State Legislature” to argue against House Bill 6.
“This kind of smells the same,” he said. “It feels more like Mr. O’Connell is more concerned about the AMP coal plant selling more electricity to the city” than about the future of energy in Bowling Green.
DeMare said that some in the city with solar panels are considering taking action, including potentially going to court.
“I don’t see the comparisons with House Bill 6,” said Council President Mark Hollenbaugh.
Councilwoman Sandy Rowland said she was insulted that DeMare would compare the mater “to one of the biggest bribery schemes that took place in the United States. … I think that’s very low.”
“What I said was it feels the same,” DeMare responded.
“To come before us and say this is a very big insult,” Rowland said.
DeMare said he wasn’t accusing anyone of wrongdoing, but said it was “very upsetting” to see something that hurts the switchover to renewable energy happening at the city level.
Rowland suggested that as the matter was handled by the utilities department, “people who know what they’re doing … you should be before the utility commission talking about this, not before us. And I hope you’ll treat them with respect.”
DeMare, who offered an apology, said his experience with them in the past was “they’ve already made their decision. I’m asking council to overturn that decision.”
As the discussion continued, it was clarified – spurred by a question from Councilman Jeff Dennis – that the policy change was not an act of council.
City Attorney Mike Marsh said that, as per the city charter, council does not have the ability to change the rates and fines as set up by the Bowling Green Board of Public Utilities.
“I do think that we have a role to play here in discussing whether or not we want to be incentivizing renewable energy installations,” Councilwoman Rachel Phipps said. “I want to learn more about this issue.”
Hollenbaugh agreed that council could potentially discuss it at another time.
Councilman Greg Robinette said he shared Rowland’s concerns about DeMare’s comments and suggested that as a council they are not obligated to “entertain personal attacks on members of the administration from members of the community.” He offered an apology to O’Connell.
“I don’t feel that we were being told that we took a bribe to have this happen, and that’s how we seem to be taking it,” said Councilman John Zanfardino, noting that House Bill 6 has ben referred to as the worst environmental law in the United States.
“I have concerns about the fees that we’re learning about. … I don’t want to be on record as being disinterested in this issue. We need to incentivize a different future and this is not that,” Zanfardino said.
Councilman Bill Herald said that “yes, there is the opportunity to say things to us, there is a freedom of speech, but I think it is very reasonable to request a bit of decorum. We have thick skins, we can’t be on council if we don’t have thick skins, we have a bit of tolerance for it when you direct it to us, but let’s have some decorum.”