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Possible “carbon tax” coming to Athens

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Court Street in Athens, Ohio in August 2017. File Photo by Connor Perrett.

The plan, which could appear on the ballot in May, is to reduce the carbon emissions by imposing a  fee on Athens’ residents based on how much energy they consume each month.

The Executive Director of the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council (SOPEC) proposed a plan to Athens City Council earlier this month to cut down on carbon emissions in Athens.

“It would be a 2-mill carbon tax, which is equal to two-tenths of a penny per kilowatt hour, or $2 per megawatt hour,” Eddie Smith, Executive Director at SOPEC, said at the City Council meeting this week. “The average home in Athens consumes about 800-900 kilowatt hours per month, so the average home in Athens would pay between $1.60 and $1.80 per month.”

This would be run as an opt-out program, so individual citizens can decide not to pay the fee if they do not want to, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said. Ohio University would not be subject to the fee because of its size. The institution can, however, choose to help support this program.

Patterson said it is important to note that this would be instituted as a fee and not a tax.

“This is an Opt-Out system through the Electric Aggregation program,” Patterson said.  “You can’t opt out of your taxes, but for this Electric Aggregation program, anybody can opt out. We hope that they don’t.”

Smith said that the money would go toward funding alternative energy sources such as solar power for public buildings in the city of Athens. This would include school and government buildings.

“This leads to cost savings in terms of these utility bills for the city, which comes straight out of taxpayer dollars,” Patterson said. “The city won’t have to pay high energy prices because we’ll be subsidizing off of solar systems on our buildings.”

Another benefit of this program, according to Patterson, is that it will encourage Athens citizens to consume less energy, and it could help achieve the city’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 10 percent. Patterson also said the city needs to stay conscious of its environmental impact despite the beliefs of the current presidency.

“Since President Trump decided to not adhere to the Paris Climate Accord,” Patterson said. “I immediately joined a group called the Climate Mayor’s Association where we, as mayors of municipalities, continue to honor the Paris Climate Accord, and I believe that this carbon fee fits nicely with that.”

Patterson said that he is hopeful that this plan will achieve its goal of making Athens an even more environmentally-friendly city and helps reduce the impact of carbon emission in the region.

“I support it because reducing carbon emission is the right thing for anyone to do,” Patterson said. “I’ve got two twin daughters. I want to make sure I’m leaving the climate better than I received it.”

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