For well over the past year and a half members of the Genoa Township Board of Trustees have been discussing electricity and natural gas governmental 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.
During the past several years aggregators and energy brokers have been knocking on area resident’s doors trying to sign them up as individual electricity and gas customers. Governmental aggregation programs allows the political subdivision to negotiate for a lowest and best price on the resident’s behalf.
On June 10 the Genoa trustees hosted an informal Public Utilities of Ohio (PUCO) session to inform township residents about energy choices in Ohio since reregulation.
Last Tuesday evening the trustees brought in visitors from four nearby political subdivisions that have negotiated governmental aggregation programs for their residents. Sharing their governmental aggregation experiences was: Sunbury Mayor Tommy Hatfield, Harlem Township Trustee Jerry Paul, Berlin Township trustee Ron Bullard and Orange Township trustee Debbie Taranto.
Also in chambers was Scott Belcastro, Trebel LLC, the energy broker that arranges opt-out aggregation programs for the Village of Sunbury and Harlem, Berlin and Orange townships.
Opening the session, Genoa trustee chair Karl Gebhardt said the meeting was scheduled to allow the trustees and township residents an opportunity to ask questions about the energy aggregation process before placing the issue on the ballot.
“If we make a motion to place electricity and natural gas aggregation issues on the November ballot and they are approved by voters, it doesn’t mean we have to enter an aggregation program, it just authorizes us as trustees to negotiate a contract,” Gebhardt said. “If the issues pass we’ll pull together a citizens advisory committee to look at options and make a recommendation of which program to pursue.”
Jerry Paul said considering the complexity of the governmental energy aggregation process and PUCO requirements, he recommends hiring a broker to craft and submit the program to PUCO.
“You need someone who understands the right questions to ask,” Paul said. “We’re very happy with the broker we chose to go with. No matter what program you go with, you’re going to have some blowback. You’ll have to answer questions in a timely manner.”
Paul noted the door-to-door sales representatives that attempt to sign up individual homeowners and small business owners in aggregation programs.
“Everybody’s got a story, they come to your door and tell you they got the best deal,” Paul said. “In our township we have strictly electricity aggregation. We got 15 percent off the Price to Compare for our residents, 20 percent off for small businesses. We thought we did pretty good; but if you’re in another contract you’re not eligible for governmental aggregation until that contract expires.”
Debbie Taranto also recommended using an energy broker, and called governmental aggregation a win-win situation.
“We met with Scott Belcastro one and one-half years ago,” Taranto said. “He did all the work, it didn’t cost the township anything. We put aggregation on the ballot and it won overwhelmingly.”
Taranto said Trebel LLC did all aggregation-related mailings and answered residents questions during the township’s two PUCO required public hearings about aggregation.
“Our broker did everything, it was a breeze, simple to do,” Taranto said. “I will say that communication with residents is important, but since we started this we’ve had only one resident complaint.”
Tommy Hatfield said Sunbury has been in electric and natural gas governmental aggregation contracts since 2013 — a first contract, then a re-contract.
“We started on our own before we went with Trebel; our goal was to try and make it easy for our residents and stop solicitors,” Hatfield said. “To be honest, it’s not a huge savings, but I value every dollar I make and I didn’t want somebody soliciting on my porch.”
Hatfield said Sunbury is fortunate to have a Village solicitor, David Brehm, who lives in the village and would be impacted by the program. He said Brehm brought contracts to Village Council that were vetted and ready to sign.
“I would put it on the ballot and go through the process,” Hatfield said. “I must admit that I was not a proponent for this, or our contract for a single trash hauler, but both have worked out fine.
“My fear, I didn’t want to walk into Kroger and have to explain to somebody why they’re paying one dollar more than the market rate,” Hatfield added. “Again, the savings is not monumental. Our goal in this was to save everybody money, make it simple, and be able to tell those people knocking on our door to go away, we’re on a program.”
Ron Bullard said Berlin Township used Scott Belcastro and Trebel to broker the Berlin aggregation programs; the township used assistance from the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office to craft a contract.
“One half of our township is Consolidated Electric, a rural co-op that’s not deregulated, one half is AEP,” Bullard said. “The discount is roughly on one third of your bill — the cost of electrons. The first year we got 19 percent off the Price to Compare for electricity. We’re closing in on $70,000 in savings for our people.”
Bullard said most Berlin residents like the program, but communication with township residents is important.
“Your electric bill looks the same,” Bullard said. “You still call AEP for service. AEP will not be your friend, but no one can keep you from shopping for electricity, and you can opt out of the contract anytime you want at no cost with our program.”
Closing the session, trustee Rick Carfagna said the trustees have spent a lot of time evaluating governmental aggregation, and deciding whether to or not to bring a broker on board.
“Most communities go with the broker to research options and then present them, much like an insurance broker,” Carfagna said. “A broker would do the shopping for us; we’re not experts. We don’t spend taxpayer resources to have a broker. Personally, I would like to see us go with the broker.”
Gebhardt recommended that audience members talk about governmental aggregation with their neighbors and members of their homeowner’s associations.
“We want to engage the public as much as possible in this decision,” Gebhardt said.