MEIGS COUNTY — Energy savings has been the subject of many letters and phone calls received by those in this region over the past several months.
It seems on a weekly basis that residents receive a letter promising them a lower rate on the electric bill if they will switch to this company or that company. While some people are taking advantage of those offers, many people remain confused by exactly what it means.
With so many options thrown at residents on a regular basis the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) will be helping to educate residents on the choices available to them.
The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 10 at the Pomeroy Branch of the Meigs County Library.
Lauren Smalley, from the PUCO’s Office of Retail Competition, will help explain rights in choosing an electric supplier. Energy choice in Ohio allows consumers to have greater control over their electric and natural gas options and may result in valuable consumer savings.
Topics that will be covered include: what electric choice means (Who are these marketers contacting me?); what to consider when shopping for an electric generation supplier; how to use the free tools available through the PUCO, like their Apples to Apples charts; and how to switch electric generation suppliers.
Smalley will also be available to answer questions about Ohio’s emerging energy market and she encourages attendees to bring copies of their own energy bills.
Two local villages are preparing to take action with regard to electric choice during the November General Election.
Residents in Racine and Pomeroy will vote on electric aggregation in November, while the Village of Middleport is considering a similar action in the 2014 Primary Election.
Aggregation is when a group of customers — such as a village — comes together to have greater buying power. This often results in a better rate for the customers.
When a village chooses to pursue governmental aggregation, they can choose one of two options, either opt-in aggregation or opt-out aggregation. According to Smalley of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, who spoke at the Racine Village Council meeting in July, often the rate is lower with opt-out aggregation, as more people will participate than in the opt-in aggregation.
Opt-out aggregation must be placed on the ballot — as is being done in both Pomeroy and Racine — for members of the village to be included to vote on the matter. Opt-in aggregation does not require the vote of residents, but serves as more of an endorsement from the local government of a particular supplier. A village may shop for rates on their own or choose a broker to assist in the shopping for rates.
In the case of Pomeroy, the village has worked with Volunteer Energy — a certified broker — since the gas aggregation program took effect.
Pomeroy and Racine voted earlier in the summer to send the matter to the voters during the November 2013 general election. A majority vote is required for council to be able to enter into a contract for a lower electric rate on behalf of its residents. If the issue were to pass on the ballot, there would be additional steps required by the village to complete the electric aggregation process.
The villages are proposing an opt-out aggregation for the electric program, just as Pomeroy already has in place for gas service.
Opt-out aggregation is a program that automatically enrolls all local residents, unless they individually opt-out of the program (choose not to be included).
If authorized by a majority of the vote, the local government must form a plan of operation and management. They must also hold at least two public hearings to allow customers to voice any concerns over the proposed plan.
Once the local government has adopted the plan, each customer to be aggregated must be notified that they will be automatically enrolled in the program unless they specifically elect not to participate. This notification must also state the rates, charges, and other terms and conditions of enrollment in the program. The opt-out notice is usually a letter accompanied by a post card to be mailed back if you do not want to participate, or, sometimes, a phone number to call or web site to visit to opt-out.
Electric aggregation customers may opt-out every three years without paying a switching fee.
In contrast, opt-in aggregation is a program that permits each customer to sign up individually to participate in the program. If the local government chooses Opt-in aggregation, it can proceed to develop a plan and start signing up customers. The plan must include all rates and terms for customers to consider when deciding to join.
Smalley stated during the July meeting that deregulation is not going to be going away, and that aggregation is becoming prominent in some areas. Aggregation allows for lower rates due to it being for a larger group of people.
Any measure passed by residents in the election would not include government buildings. Government buildings such as water and sewer plants, municipal buildings, and schools would not be considered since they are higher energy users. They could choose to enter into a contract with a provider on their own.
In Pomeroy, residents decided in May 2009 to participate in a gas aggregation program after the issue was placed on the ballot for voters to decide. The issue passed by a 83-81 vote. The gas aggregation is also an opt-out program.
Currently, residents in Gallipolis, Belpre and Marietta, along with many counties, cities and villages in northern Ohio participate in electric aggregation according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Albany and Pomeroy participate in the gas aggregation program.
The meeting is open to all area residents.
For more information about energy choice, visit the PUCO’s website at www.puco.ohio.gov.