Hopewell Township officials continue public meetings on a potential energy program

Hopewell Township officials have organized a new slate of public meetings to address a potential electric aggregation program.

The public meetings in January are a continuation of conversations and discussions that took place last year about a potential community energy program.

“This is really to inform the public about the potential we have to explore energy aggregation, which is fundamentally designed to save electric customers money on their electric bills,” Committeewoman Courtney Peters-Manning said. “Before the township committee takes any action on this opportunity we want to hear what the public has to say and make sure that residents are informed on what would happen if we enacted this.”

Manning is taking the lead for the committee on this issue.

The first meeting took place on Jan. 22, with the second set for Jan. 30. The meeting on Jan. 30 will be located at Stony Brook Elementary School and will begin at 7 p.m.

Hopewell Township officials have already held five public information sessions, two of which were specifically for the senior communities in town.

Officials said a letter had also been sent out in December with additional information about the program.

“We have seen people have an interest in having a program such as this in town. I have had people say that there is no downside why would we not do this,” Manning said.

Energy aggregation programs allow municipalities, working alone or in a group, to gather the energy requirements of residential, commercial and municipal customer accounts so that the participating customers can purchase electric supply and/or gas supply from third party suppliers at prices lower than the average utility price, according to state officials.

Township officials stated that a potential program not only would help reduce customer’s energy bill, but the demand for natural gas from sources such as the PennEast Pipeline project.

“This began for Hopewell Township as way to not only decrease our energy bill, but also as a way to increase our renewable energy in our electric supply. This would be a way to reduce the supply side demand for natural gas that runs through the pipeline,” Manning said. “It is one thing to be against the PennEast Pipeline, which we all are, but it is even better to reduce the demand for natural gas.”

Hopewell Township Mayor Kristin McLaughlin said she sees this program as a good and solid one.

“New Jersey is one of the most heavily taxed states in the country. We are always looking for ways to save our residents money,” McLaughlin said. “I am waiting to hear all of our resident’s questions. Everything I have heard so far leads me to think that this is a really good and solid program, that could save our residents money.”

She added that if nothing else comes up through this process, she will support a potential energy aggregation program in town.

According to Manning, the Concord Energy consulting company will provide additional information if township committee members approve a program.

“If the township committee decides to move forward, Concord Energy, at their expense, will send more information to every household explaining the process and giving multiple ways to opt out if desired,” Manning said. “An energy aggregation program brings the energy auction down to the local level instead of the state.”

For municipalities to implement an aggregation program it must be done by a municipal ordinance.

Municipalities must advertise for and solicit bids from third party suppliers interested in providing electricity or gas supply under the program.

“Instead of the state holding the auction, Hopewell Township holds the auction. Because we have a predictable residential energy load. We can often get a better rate than the state rate,” Manning said.

According to officials, after selecting the winning bidder, the municipality can enter into a contract with the selected supplier on behalf of the residents who will participate in the program.

“If we can’t get a better rate, we will not accept the bid. By law we cannot accept the bid and it just goes away and we will return to the status quo,” Manning said.

Hopewell Township officials are looking to bring in more renewable energy to residents at a lower cost than Jersey Central Power & Light Company and the Public Service Electric & Gas Company.

“If, however, someone does not want to participate for whatever reason, it is very easy to opt out. Residents can opt-in and opt-out as many times as they like with no penalty,” Manning said. “Everyone will get lots of information on how to do that if we decide to move forward with the program.”

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