Lompoc residents can expect to see some savings on their upcoming utility bills.
The Lompoc City Council on Tuesday night voted 5-0 to use about $2.3 million that the city has in clean energy credits to provide a one-time $150 rebate to each of the city’s residential and commercial electric customers.
The move, first proposed by Councilman Dirk Starbuck at the Council’s May 5 meeting, was made in an attempt to financially assist community members who may be experiencing hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rebates, which are only for electric customers but can be applied to the entire utility bill, are expected to begin in the next billing cycle. For customers whose bills are less than $150, the rebate can be rolled over until it is fully exhausted.
“There are people out there that are hurting and need some assistance, so I think it’s a good thing,” Councilman Victor Vega said of the rebates.
The $2.3 million estimated cost was determined by using the 14,916 electric meters that were in use in the city in January.
Those funds will come from the city’s electric greenhouse gas allowance reserves, which had reached about $3.3 million as of Tuesday, according to city staff. Those reserve funds, which will drop to about $1 million after the rebates, are usually used for renewable energy projects.
During Tuesday’s discussion, Lompoc City Attorney Jeff Malawy confirmed that the rebate program was legal under the guidelines of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Cap-and-Trade Program.
The energy credits, according to California regulations, can be used for investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Malawy noted that the regulations also allow the funds to be “distributed directly to electric rate payers in a nonvolume metric manner,” meaning it has to be a flat-rate rebate and not based on electric usage.
Resident Nicholas Gonzales was among a couple speakers who encouraged the City Council to move forward with the plan.
“It’s greatly appreciated,” Gonzales said. “People can use all the help (they can get).”
Former mayor and current utility commissioner John Linn also supported the move. He noted that the Utility Commission hadn’t had a chance to review the plan, due to its recent meetings having been canceled, but he said he felt like the other commissioners would also support it.
Leah Braitman, one of those other utility commissioners, called in to the meeting to offer comment immediately after Linn, but she expressed more concern than support for the rebate plan. She said she was disappointed the Utility Commission didn’t get a chance to look it over before Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“I’m just wondering if this one-off, although probably very much needed, rebate will bite us in the butt in the future,” she said, noting that some long-term projects may be affected by the depletion of $2.3 million from the greenhouse gas allowance reserves.
“I know it’s going to make you all look great that you’ve given the common man some money,” she added, “but … I think it might lack foresight.”
Councilman Jim Mosby said he felt like the greenhouse gas credits were earned by utility customers, so it should be those same customers who benefit from them.
“What better time to give back some of the money that is the people’s?” he said.
The next regular meeting of the Lompoc City Council is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 2.
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.
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