MacLellan gives energy choice presentation at Library

By Lenny C. Lepola

March 19, 2014

The Village of Sunbury recently agreed to renew its governmental aggregation electricity contract with Border Energy for an additional year. Sunbury’s energy broker, Scott Belcastro of Trebel LLC, arranged the initial one-year opt-out contact with Border Energy that saved village residents 15 percent of electricity generation costs; small businesses saved 10 percent.

The one-year contract renewal will continue to save Sunbury residents 15 percent of electricity generation costs, raises the small business savings to 15 percent, and eliminates the early termination fee. Last year’s electricity aggregation contract contained a $50 early termination fee for residential customers; the fee was $150 for small business customers.

On March 3 opt-out letters were sent to Sunbury residents and small business owners who qualify for the governmental aggregation plan, informing them of the governmental aggregation renewal with Border Energy. The letters notified them of the opportunity to opt out of the program. If residents do nothing after receiving the letter they remain in the program; if they reply to the letter they can request to be eliminated from the aggregation program’s roster.

The opt-out deadline is Monday, March 24, though it’s a moot point without an early termination fee. Without the fee residents and small business owners could opt-out of the program at any time during the year without cost.

Many area residents, not only those from Sunbury, still have questions about the often-confusing process of electricity and natural gas aggregation programs. In addition to Belcastro serving several local political subdivisions as a formal energy broker arranging governmental aggregation contracts, representatives from other energy brokerage firms send a barrage of mail (email and snail mail) and knock on doors with sales pitches promising utility savings.

It’s confusing, at best; and at its worst leaves homeowners frustrated when they’re forced to make decisions that will impact the family budget without the knowledge to make those decisions.

Last Monday Erin MacLellan, a public information officer from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s Office of Retail Competition, was at Community Library in Sunbury with a presentation designed to educate Sunbury residents and small business owners about energy choice.

“We want to give people the tools and resources they need to make educated decisions about choosing an electric or natural gas supplier,” MacLellan said in opening her presentation. “We want to give you the ability to choose another provider other than your existing provider. Our goal is to let you understand your options and be confident you made an educated decision.”

MacLellan’s presentation covered three primary areas — what is energy choice, free resources available from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), and consumer rights and protections.

MacLellan said energy choice options in Ohio following deregulation is similar to shopping for a car — consumers can test drive energy options.

“Ohio doesn’t have wholesale deregulation,” MacLellan said. “With generation and supply consumers have options to shop; transmission and distribution are regulated. And you do not have to shop for an energy choice, but 2.5 million Ohioans have made the decision either as individuals or through governmental aggregation programs to shop for electricity choices.”

MacLellan said PUCO offers an Apples to Apples comparison chart at < > that is updated daily and shows offers made by all certified natural gas and electricity aggregators operating in Ohio.

“On the Apples to Apples electricity chart you’ll find the supplier’s name, price per kilowatt hour, rate type — fixed or variable — renewable content versus introductory price, contract length, early termination fees and product offers,” MacLellan said. “All energy choices are listed side by side, and it’s updated daily.”

MacLellan said consumers should ask specific questions before signing an energy aggregation contract:

  • Does the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio certify the provider?
  • Is budget billing available?
  • What is the length of the contract?
  • What happens when the contract expires?

More questions consumers should ask are listed on the energy choice website, MacLellan said.

MacLellan also explained Governmental Aggregation programs like Sunbury’s opt-out electric aggregation contract with Border Energy.

(Voter approval is required for political subdivisions to negotiate opt-out contracts with an energy broker or energy aggregation firms; opt-in contracts do not have to go on the ballot. Sunbury voters approved both electricity aggregation and natural gas aggregation issues on the November 8, 2011, ballot.)

“Governmental Aggregation gives the community buying power to solicit the lowest price,” MacLellan said. “Households on PIPP plans — Percentage of Income Payment Plans — are not eligible to shop for energy choices; and residents and small businesses on another aggregation plan also cannot participate in a governmental aggregation plan.”

With Sunbury entering a renewed Border Energy electricity contract that has no early termination fee, MacLellan said Village residents and small business owners could still be approached by sales representatives from other firms seeking their business.

“The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio offers plenty of consumer protection,” MacLellan said. “Suppliers that want to sell gas and electricity in Ohio have to be certified by the PUCO, and we also regulate their marketing and soliciting practices and can take action against someone who is violating those rules by fining them. What we don’t regulate is their pricing or what they charge.”

MacLellan said it’s important to be a wise and cautious consumer when approached by any firm’s sales representative — face to face or over the phone.

“Protect your personal information,” MacLellan said. “Ask for a photo ID, and don’t hand your utility bill to someone you don’t know; there’s too much personal information on it.

“Read fully and understand the terms of your contract, and take your time,” MacLellan added. “You should also ask any phone sales representative to mail you a written contract. You want a written document in front of you when you agree to a plan, rather than accept a plan’s terms over the phone. And remember, you have a seven-day window to change your mind.”

For additional information MacLellan said to call the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Consumer Call Center at 800-686-PUCO (7826) to speak with a representative, or log on to < > and < >.