Village to proceed with aggregation following second Public Hearing
By LENNY C. LEPOLA
News Assistant Managing Editor
Members of Sunbury Village Council held their second required public hearing last Wednesday (November 28) before they could vote to proceed with electric and natural gas aggregation programs for village residential and small business customers.
For nearly two years 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.
When the issues reached voters they approved allowing the village to negotiate residential electric and natural gas aggregation by significant margins — 925 village voters said “YES” to electric aggregation, 579 said “NO”; 935 voters said “YES” to natural gas aggregation, 579 said “NO”.
In June members of Village Council and village administrators interviewed potential suppliers for the village’s electric and national gas aggregation programs. In July, with the assistance of energy broker Scott Belcastro, Trebel, Inc., they began creating a plan of operation and governance; and in early November council members approved both natural gas and electric plans of operation and governance and scheduled November 20 and November 28 public hearings.
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.
Council members reviewed formal residential and small business electricity and natural gas governance plans in early November. The plans of operation and governance Belcastro negotiated with the village would have electricity supplied by Powell-based Border Energy and natural gas supplied by Pickerington-based Volunteer Energy.
For both electricity and natural gas, Belcastro will act as the village energy broker, with no fees assessed to the village. Belcastro is paid by the energy suppliers.
Belcastro said signing a one-year electric aggregation contract with Border Energy would save residents a guaranteed 15 percent off AEP’s monthly generation and transmission charges that appear on their electric bill; American Electric Power’s distribution charge would remain unchanged. Small businesses will save 10 percent off of the generation and transmission of electricity.
Border Energy’s residential early termination fee will be $50; and the electric bill would still come from AEP with Border Energy charges noted.
Volunteer Energy currently offers a savings of 7 percent off of the residential customer’s natural gas bill adder, with no early termination fee. Because natural gas rates will not be negotiated until February, Belcastro said, it’s not known whether or not the village would enter a natural gas aggregation agreement.
“Customers will get one bill from Columbia Gas with Volunteer Energy on the bill,” Belcastro said. “For service issues, because Columbia Gas and American Electric Power remain the local distributor, they would be the one to call for service issues.”
Last Wednesday (November 28), Arbor Drive resident George Owings asked what would happen if a village resident were on the aggregation plan and moved away from the village; would that individual will be responsible for an early termination fee?
Belcastro said anyone could leave the program without a termination fee if they move; and there is no early termination fee for natural gas.
Former council member Bob Bishop asked if a new resident or renter could opt-in mid contract.
Border Energy’s Andy Mitri, who attended the session, said he would allow new residents in at the same rate as existing customers.
“If anyone moves in, I’ll keep the rate open until the end of the contract,” Mitri said. “I’ll carry that risk.”
Belcastro emphasized that the Sunbury aggregation programs are opt-out programs. Residents will receive letters in the mail notifying them that they have 21 days to opt-out of either program.
“If residents want to stay in the program they have to do nothing,” Belcastro said. “If they don’t want to stay in they can opt out and there’s no fee. The contract is on an annual basis, and they can opt out again next year.
“We want people to be aware of the program,” Belcastro added. “We want them to read the letter. We want them to ask questions.”