WORTHINGTON — A program offered by Missouri River Energy Services (MRES) is now allowing the city of Worthington’s electricity to be 100% carbon-free.

The Worthington Public Utilities (WPU) Water & Light Commission voted unanimously during its March 1 meeting to make the city's electricity completely carbon-free. WPU will reach that goal through the Bright Energy Choices program offered by MRES, its supplemental power supplier.

Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain noted this week that the MRES carbon-free program has been around for a while, but the “cost of participation came down significantly this year.” He added that WPU has received a growing number of inquiries from customers — particular larger customers — about going 100% carbon-free.

“That’s trending really heavily now,” Hain said of the increased interest in carbon-free power.

The Bright Energy Choices program allows WPU to purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to offset the emissions from electricity generated by fossil fuel plants, Hain explained in a WPU press release issued earlier this week. This makes the electricity used by its customers, in effect, carbon-free, and the WPU made its participation in the program retroactive to January.

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“RECs are proof that electricity was generated by qualifying clean, renewable facilities — such as wind and solar farms — and fed into the electric grid,” Hain stated in the press release.

Hain reported that in 2020, the city of Worthington’s power supply mix consisted of 81% clean, carbon-free electricity. Approximately 25% of that electricity comes from hydropower supplied by the dams on the Missouri River. Worthington has depended on hydropower — a clean, renewable and reliable resource — for more than 50 years, Hain said.

The city’s supplemental electric needs, meanwhile, are met by MRES through a diverse mix of resources, including wind, solar, nuclear, coal, natural gas, diesel and market purchases. Additionally, Hain pointed out, a new hydroelectric plant constructed on the Des Moines River near Pella, Iowa, will start production this month and become part of the MRES power supply mix.

“Our mission statement … is always to do things in an environmentally responsible manner, and we’re doing that as well by going carbon-free,” Hain said. “This program, quite honestly, customers could choose to participate in on their own. … As we had a few more inquiries and some interest, the conversation I had with the commission was, ‘Do we just want to do this as a utility for all of our customers?’

“As a utility, then, we’re taking a position that we’re promoting the development of cleaner resources,” he added. “There’s also a lot less administration for us to do this for the entire power supply rather than a case-by-case basis.”

Worthington’s power supply portfolio does contain fossil fuel generation that provides reliability to the electric grid, Hain explained. Those plants operate when intermittent renewable resources, like wind and solar, are not available.

For example, Hain said, natural gas plants can quickly come online to generate electricity when the wind diminishes. Although fossil fuel generation is needed to keep the lights on, it does emit carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

“The purchase of RECs lets WPU and our customers support the development of additional, carbon-free, renewable energy resources while maintaining the reliability of our electric supply,” Hain said in the press release. “We are very excited about the ability to affordably make this stride toward a cleaner energy future. The purchase of RECs will not result in a rate increase or impact customer’s electric bills.”