Genoa weighs utility ballot issue


Genoa Township trustees are still weighing a decision about putting a ballot issue before voters that would give trustees authority to negotiate natural gas and electric aggregation programs for township residents and small business owners.

In 1999 the State of Ohio General Assembly passed legislation allowing Ohio to become a deregulated state, and at least when it comes to electricity and natural gas Ohio consumers can now purchase those two commodities from providers other than a traditional utility company.

Purchasing an energy commodity from an alternative supplier can be confusing for the average homeowner. Letters come in the mail seeking a homeowner’s business, sales reps knock at the door, each offering different promises; each guaranteeing savings. But without an intimate knowledge of the energy market and a crystal ball that would predict next month’s or next year’s energy prices, most homeowners are in the dark and at the mercy of marketer’s promises.

Ohio law allows for communities — such as townships, cities and counties — to form aggregated buying groups to purchase electric generation and transmission on behalf of their citizens. By bringing citizens together, an aggregation program gains group buying power and typically can negotiate a better price with the supplier than each aggregation group member could have negotiated individually. The governmental aggregator chooses the electric generation supplier for all of the customer-members in its group.

It becomes complicated, but in a proverbial nutshell Opt-In Governmental Aggregation programs do not have to go on a ballot because energy consumers have to voluntarily join the program. Opt-Out aggregation programs require voter approval because once a program is approved and a contract negotiated residents and small business owners are automatically enrolled in the program unless they opt-out.

Energy broker Scott Belcastro, Trebel LLC, has brokered electric and natural gas governmental aggregation contracts with the Village of Sunbury and several other local political subdivisions, and has been encouraging Genoa Township trustees to place governmental aggregation issues on the ballot. If voters approve aggregation the trustees would then have the authority to negotiate or opt-out of natural gas and electric aggregation programs for Genoa residents and small business owners.

Last Wednesday evening Katie Salvator, Outreach Manager, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), attended a special Energy Choice session following the June Genoa Township Board of Trustees meeting.

Opening the session, trustee Karl Gebhardt said one issue that has been discussed by the trustees over the past year has been whether or not to place aggregation issues on the ballot. He said if an energy aggregation issue passes, that doesn’t mean the township must enter an aggregation program; it merely gives the trustees the authority to negotiate with an energy broker or supplier.

“Communities around us have done this,” Gebhardt said. “The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio folks have agreed to give us an unbiased explanation of what aggregation is. Then we will put together a citizens advisory committee and establish a timetable. To be on the November ballot we have to file by August, but for a big project like this we like to get as much input as we can from township residents.”

Salvator said governmental aggregation does not mean the township is shopping for a savings from the entire utility bill. With electricity, the bill is divided between generation, transmission and distribution.

“American Electric Power and Columbia Gas still supply your lines to your home,” Salvator said. “Aggregators are reputable companies who can shop for a supplier for you. If you shop you still receive a bill from AEP or Columbia Gas, but there will be a supplier named on your bill.”

Salvator said 2.6 million electric customers and 1.7 million natural gas customers in Ohio have decided to shop for energy, over one half of eligible customers. Not eligible are customers of municipal and rural co-ops, PIPP-Plus customers, customers of small gas companies, and individuals and small businesses already in an aggregation contract.

“Aggregators offer your community buying power,” Salvator said. “Your group becomes a single, larger customer pooling buying power.”

Why aggregation? Salvator said in addition to a better energy price aggregation allows for energy efficiency programs and better energy management.

Salvator encouraged Genoa residents to visit the PUCO energy choice website at < energychoice.ohio.gov > for additional aggregation information and an Apples to Apples Chart that compares offers made by Ohio’s energy suppliers, updated daily at 5 a.m. Also listed are questions consumers should ask aggregators, suppliers and energy brokers.

Trustee Rick Carfagna said he would like to have a meeting with select individuals from other communities that have done governmental aggregation before a decision is made to go on a ballot.