City and County Talk Electricity Aggregation

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Voters in Athens County will be asked in November whether they want to allow electricity aggregation, a process by which groups negotiate lower electricity rates.

On Monday, Athens City Council voted to put the matter on the ballot in the city, and on Tuesday the county commissioners voted to put it on the countywide ballot.

Although there will be separate ballot issues, Commissioner Chris Chmiel said the intent is for the city and county to work together.

City Council suspended its rules requiring three readings of the ordinance and approved it on first reading because Monday’s regular meeting would be their last before the Aug. 7 filing deadline with the Athens County Board of Elections.

“It’s an important option for the city residents,” said Councilwoman Christine Fahl.

Mayor Paul Wiehl said he is not worried about the redundancy of two ballot issues and told Council he had discussed the matter with City Law Director Pat Lang.

“It does put forward a certain amount of redundancy,” Wiehl said. “But we can always withdraw this if it does seem superfluous.”

The city and county banding together would give more purchasing power, Wiehl said.

The city’s ballot issue is modeled after a natural gas aggregation proposal that was approved by voters in 2009.

Natural gas aggregation has not moved forward because the city could not find the range of prices it wanted, Wiehl said.

City officials want to create an electricity aggregation system in which residents of the city who are not already part of an aggregate will be automatically enrolled, but could opt-out if they choose.

The county proposal also would allow residents to opt out of aggregation.

With the ballot item, there are still public hearings that will have to happen and many ways for the public to be heard on the issue.

“I think there would be a lot of opportunity for constituents to state their opinions and discuss,” said Councilwoman Michele Papai.

Wiehl said the city would be looking for the “best deal possible” in electricity rates and, at the very least, the aggregation would be a chance to save money.

The idea was also brought up at a recent luncheon meeting between city officials and Ohio University President Roderick McDavis.

Wiehl said McDavis expressed interest in the subject as well.

“The landscape of … electrical generation is changing,” Wiehl said.

The commissioners are being wooed by companies that want to represent the county in the aggregation process.

On Tuesday, they met with Scott Belcastro of Trebel LCC, an energy aggregation firm from Westerville.

Such firms can be hired prior to the election to help educate the public, then, if the ballot issue passes, put together a request for proposals that will be sent to electricity suppliers.

Chmiel said the county may well decide to do its own education effort, then decide after the election whether it wants to hire a firm to solicit price quotes from energy providers.

“We’re just trying to take it one step at a time,” Chmiel said.

This article was contributed by the Athens Messenger