Sunbury Council discusses programs on utility aggregation
By LENNY C. LEPOLA
News Assistant Managing Editor
The Village of Sunbury has been exploring acquiring electricity for village facilities through an aggregation agreement as a cost savings measure; and has also moved towards electric and natural gas aggregation options for village residents by placing electric and gas aggregation issues on the November 8, 2011, ballot.
Fred Holmes from Volunteer Energy began stumping for village council to place the two residential aggregation issues — electricity and natural gas — on the ballot well over a year and a half ago; and when the issues reached voters they approved allowing the village to negotiate residential electric and gas aggregation by significant margins.
Fast forward 11 months and Scott Belcastro, Trebel LLC, was in chambers at last Wednesday’s Village Council meeting to discuss an electric aggregation program for village facilities; and in a separate discussion, natural gas and electric aggregation for village residents.
Belcastro, who described himself as an independent broker, said Trebel LLC is an energy-consulting firm. Belcastro explained that he does not work for the energy companies buying bulk gas and electric energy at auction and selling it to the village; he functions more like an insurance broker. The village has a need, various companies could fill that need, Belcastro would be in the middle hooking the two up — hopefully in the best interests of both parties.
Sunbury residents might remember Belcastro. He attended a village council meeting earlier this year with Border Energy vice-president Andy Mitrey. Border Energy was there to explain what they had to offer as an energy aggregation firm.
Last Wednesday Belcastro said he believes Border Energy offers the best deal in electric aggregation for municipal facilities – a 29 percent savings in generation and transmission fees on its 1 million kW per year electric bill if the village would agree to a 24-month arrangement.
Sunbury mayor Tommy Hatfield said aggregation is new enough to the village that he would feel uncomfortable agreeing to anything more than 12 months. He also asked Belcastro how he is paid for being a middleman. Belcastro said he is paid by the kW hour in electric aggregation arrangements.
Under the heading of electric aggregation for villageresidents, Belcastro said residents could expect a guaranteed savings off generation and transmission — 10 percent for residential customers, 15 percent for business customers — for a potential $135,000 a year savings across the community. He said there would be no savings on distribution rates. AEP and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio set distribution rates; those rates would remain intact on future electric bills even under an aggregation agreement.
“Almost 65 percent of your aggregation process is already through; you guys have done almost all the heavy lifting at this point,” Belcastro said. “You’ve got two suppliers with two very good offers ready to go (Border Energy for electricity, Volunteer Energy for natural gas). I’ve done 65 percent of the work to get this going. You need to submit notices for the newspapers, have two public meetings, submit your application to PUCO and the flow could start in February.”
Belcastro said as a broker in the middle he would keep the process moving forward by asking the right questions. Once everything is in place he would do the village’s reporting.
“The last thing is an exclusivity agreement,” Belcastro said. “You’re at a point right now where you guys can vote on it and move forward.”
Council member Jennifer Witt balked at the “exclusivity agreement” statement; Hatfield said the village already understands that it’s going to work with Border Energy and Volunteer Energy whether or not they agree to work through Belcastro.
“Part of the reason we haven’t done this is the village is getting in the way; we don’t want to do something we regret,” Hatfield said. “Am I right that you’re acting on the village’s behalf to get this moving forward?”
Belcastro said he was basically quarterbacking the aggregation negotiations; that it’s good to have a third party involved to get what the village and its residents need.
Asked by village solicitor David Brehm for a reasonable timeline for residential electric and natural gas aggregation, Belcastro said public meetings could be held in November, then a statutory 21 days for residents to opt-out of aggregation.
“You should be flowing by February 1 — electric and gas,” Belcastro said. “No legislation. You just pass a resolution and Dave Martin signs it off. Pass another resolution to hire Trebel LLC to get this across the finish line and we can move forward.”
In other business, council members approved a motion to spend up to $3,500 for Sunbury Consulting Engineer Wes Hall, CT Consultants, to have the Sunbury Town Hall roof inspected before roofing alternatives and estimates are submitted.
“We don’t want to propose a cost until we know the condition of the rafters and planking by doing an interior and exterior inspection,” Hall said. “Then we can look at materials — different kinds of metals and the weight of the metals on the roof – and then come up with an initial cost.”
Hatfield said Town Hall roof has been leaking; the roofing job needs to be done to protect the building for future generations.
“We don’t want to pass the buck,” Hatfield said. “But we do want to be cautious as we move forward.”