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LOCAL VOICES: Aggregation and your utility bill

Commentary • Apr 15, 2010 at 1:40 AM

Timothy Riesterer, Margaretta Twp.

Orville Sayler, Florence Twp.

Ronald Dickie, Vermilion

Sparky Weilnau, Milan

Luke Seitz, Groton Twp.

The Executive Committee of

the Erie County Township Association

Erie County officials have placed two ballot issues on the May 2010 Primary seeking voter approval to pursue opt-out natural gas and opt-out electric aggregation programs. More than 200 similar ballot initiatives have passed in communities across Ohio in the past nine years, most by a wide margin.

The ballot initiatives, if approved, would give our commissioners the authority -- but not the obligation -- to pursue natural gas and electric programs. The county, working through its consultant, Independent Energy Consultants, would first become certified as a Government Aggregator with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and then seek natural gas and electric offers. Prior to certification, the county would hold two public hearings to explain the Plans of Operations and Governance that would be used to administer the two programs.

To learn more about aggregation programs, visit the Web sites of the Ohio Consumers Counsel  or Public Utilities Commission of Ohio 

The natural gas and electric programs, while similar, are separate programs and participation in one is not necessary to participate in the other. The programs are likely to be on different time schedules and will have different companies serving as energy suppliers.

With opt-out aggregation programs all eligible residential and small commercial customers are included in the program unless they decide to opt-out. The participation rate for opt-out programs tends to very high, and because of this, suppliers are able to pass on lower rates.

The ballot initiatives and these programs are being conducted without using any taxpayer money. The ballot must pass before any further steps can be purchased with an opt-out program. If approved, you will be hearing more details about the programs as we move forward in the coming weeks and months. Participation in either program is purely voluntary. The county, like others before it, is attempting to leverage the bargaining power of a large buying group to obtain a favorable alternative to the local utilities' natural gas and electric supply rates. Dominion East Ohio (gas) and Ohio Edison (electric) would continue to deliver your natural gas and electric, maintain their distribution systems, read your meters, issue your bills, etc.

These programs do not guarantee savings but present another valuable option for residents and small businesses in their attempts to manage their energy costs. State legislators deregulated Ohio's natural gas and electric markets in 2001 thereby enabling residents to choose their gas and/or electric suppliers.

Most of the customer switching and savings have come through government aggregation programs similar to what Erie County is pursuing.

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