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Council votes 3–2 on gas

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On Monday, June 20, Village Council in a close vote approved a contract with American Municipal Power, or AMP, to participate in a natural gas plant at Fremont, Ohio. The action means that the Village is adding a small amount of natural gas to its energy portfolio.

The vote was 3–2 on the second reading of the ordinance to approve the contract, with Lori Askeland, Rick Walkey and Karen Wintrow voting for and Judith Hempfling and John Booth voting against.

The vote followed two months of intense dialogue between Council members and villagers, many of whom opposed adding gas to the Village energy portfolio due to their concern over fracking, a process used to extract natural gas from the earth that’s linked with groundwater pollution.

Also at issue during the conversation has been whether gas is indeed “cleaner” than coal, as its proponents claim, due to the alleged harmful effects of fracking. If the Village did not sign on to the Fremont contract, there would be a greater likelihood that it would be dependent on coal for some part of its portfolio, an option that all Council members have said they oppose.

While Council members have stated their preference for renewable energy sources and recently signed a contract for a local solar farm, renewable energy sources are at this point a less available and more expensive option. Those who oppose natural gas have emphasized that more renewable sources could become available in the future.

The Fremont plant contract, which commits the Village for 35 years, will supply 0.5 megawatts, or 500 kilowatts, of intermediate electrical power, or power that’s available during high-use workdays. This is about one-third of the amount AMP originally suggested for Village intermediate needs. This reduction was made after an energy consultant recommended that the Village diversify its sources for intermediate power.

That smaller commitment of power helped some Council members, who said they’ve struggled with the issue, commit to the Fremont contract. Earlier, Council members expressed concerns that the larger amount would lock the Village out of renewable energy opportunities.

Lori Askeland said she was also swayed by the power service agreement that AMP will offer, in which municipalities have some control over the source of the natural gas. Fracking is not used in the production of most natural gas, Askeland said, and with the power service agreement, “We’ll have some sway over how the plant is run.”

Cost was a consideration for Karen Wintrow, who said that while she supports using renewables, they tend to be more expensive, and “we also have a responsibility to provide affordable electricity” for local businesses and residents.

While most villagers seek sustainability, using renewable energy sources is one piece of the equation, and personal behavior is another piece, according to Rick Walkey.

In his conversations, “the concerns I hear is that most want Yellow Springs to be 100 percent sustainable,” said Rick Walkey. “So would I.”

When new hydro projects come online in several years, the Village will have 60 percent of its energy portfolio from renewable sources, he said.

“If Yellow Springs wants to be 100 percent sustainable, then we need to reduce consumption by 40 percent. Then we’ll be there,” he said.

Hempfling agreed that conservation is a a critical piece of sustainability that villagers have not yet embraced.

“Most of us are well-informed, but less motivated to change our lifestyle,” she said. Hempfling also said the length of the Fremont contract is the reason she voted against the contract.

Five citizens spoke against the Fremont contract, expressing their opposition to fracking. Dimi Reber, who read a letter to Council, stated that she questions the assumption that natural gas is a cleaner energy source than coal, and also the assumption that the process of extracting gas from the earth will soon be regulated.

“I don’t see regulation coming down the road,” she said. “It’s a long, slow process.”

While Christine Roberts stated that the smaller amount of gas in the Village Fremont contract “could be seen as a compromise,” she went on to say, “I would be very proud of our town if we said no to this.”

For more items of June 20 Council business, see next week’s News.


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