Newark residents soon will have the option to purchase electricity that is 100 percent renewable.

City council approved the plan Monday night, providing an option that city officials say some residents have been requesting for years.

“This ordinance represents a terrific path forward for citizens to voluntarily and meaningfully contribute to the reduction of the city’s carbon footprint,” said Sheila Smith, chair of the Conservation Advisory Commission, which advises council on environmental issues.

Existing electric customers who opt-in to the program will pay a monthly renewable energy fee on top of their usual electric rate to cover the added cost of providing green electricity. Meanwhile, effective June 1, all new electric customers will automatically be charged the fee unless they specifically opt-out.

The fee will add between $5 and $8 to the average resident’s monthly electric cost, City Manager Tom Coleman said.

In simple terms, most of the money will go toward supporting the addition of more solar power generation in Newark.

The city already maintains the McKees Solar Park off Cleveland Avenue and plans to add approximately 1.3 MW of solar generation to the city’s inventory by the end of the year. Solar panels are planned for the roof of the municipal building, the George Wilson Center and two buildings at the city maintenance yard off Phillips Avenue. Solar panels will also be installed in a vacant field near the Newark Reservoir, and the existing McKees site will be expanded.

The new solar panels are part of a $10 million energy efficiency initiative that is funded by a loan that will be paid off though cost savings and energy sales over 20 years.

If demand for renewable energy exceeds what Newark produces, the city will purchase renewable energy certificates, often referred to as RECs, from other renewable energy producers in the area.

Because the energy grid is fed by multiple sources, there’s no way for customers to know exactly where their energy comes from. RECs are sold by producers of solar, wind and other green energy and assign “ownership” of the green energy to the purchaser.

“The way that you track that you bought it from a renewable source is RECs,” Coleman said. “They’re really the tracking mechanism of who gets to say they’re using renewable energy.”

The ordinance adopted Monday was one of the goals of the Newark Sustainability Plan, which was approved by council in 2019. The plan calls for Newark to sell 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2060, improve air quality, reduce water consumption and encourage a “car-free lifestyle,” among other goals.

“The big thing for us is that it gives our Newark residents an option that customers of Delmarva Power have had for a while now, which is to control the source of their power and meet their personal goals for sustainability and renewable power,” Coleman said. “If this is something you want to do, you can do it, and we’ll take the money from the program and we’ll reinvest it in our own renewable resources here in Newark.”

He expects the program also will help Newark attract businesses that have their own sustainability goals to meet.

The program will be in place by June 1, likely sooner. Customers should watch their electric bills for information about how to opt in to the renewable energy fee.

“Newarkers are going to be generally well behind this and understand the value and net worth in the program,” Mayor Jerry Clifton said. “I like the fact this is a voluntary program and as the years go by, I think we’ll see our numbers exceeding the benchmarks that have been set by us and the state of Delaware. This is a great night for Newark.”

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