Hopewell Township officials move forward with energy aggregation program

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Hopewell Township officials are preparing to establish an electric energy aggregation program following the Township Committee’s adoption of an ordinance to approve the measure.

Mayor Kristin McLaughlin, Deputy Mayor Michael Ruger, Committeewoman Courtney Peters-Manning, Committeeman Kevin Kuchinski and Committeewoman Julie Blake voted “yes” on a motion to adopt the ordinance on Feb. 18.

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

Municipal officials said a potential program not only would help reduce customers’ energy bill, but the demand for natural gas from sources such as the PennEast pipeline project.

Some residents raised concerns about the energy aggregation program being an opt-out program instead of an opt-in program; while others claimed officials held secret meetings in trying to establish the program through the ordinance.

Municipal officials held six public information sessions, two of which were specifically for adult communities.

“I want to take exception to the saying this has been a secret process. The committee sent a letter to every household in December. We have held four public meetings, we had two meetings before that with the senior communities,” Peters-Manning said. “We have done our best to get the information out.”

An energy aggregation program must be enacted by a municipal ordinance. Officials must advertise for and solicit bids from third party suppliers interested in providing electricity or gas supply under the program.

After Hopewell Township holds an auction and selects a winning bidder, the municipality can enter into a contract with the selected supplier on behalf of residents who will participate in the program.

“This is not forcing the community into a program. It is indeed an opt-out program because that is how it is developed in state law. I have heard people say they do not want the government to set their electric rates, which I completely understand and felt that way at some point,” Peters-Manning said.

“The government already sets your electric rates. The Basic Generation Service auction is held every February and the all the utilities in New Jersey set the rates for all of the consumers in New Jersey,” she said.

She said energy aggregation brings that auction to the local level.

“In Hopewell Township we have a smaller and more predictable residential energy load. By targeting smaller electric buyers we can often get a better rate, and it is true we may not get a better rate. We cannot move forward with this program unless we get a better rate,” Peters-Manning explained.

“The risk is that you would stay at the rate you currently are at now. If we go to auction and can’t get a better rate nothing will change. There is no fee to opt in or out and you can opt in or out of the program as many times as you want,” she said.

Officials said the energy aggregation program would be in increments of one year, 18 months or 24 months.

“I know when I started this, I was not the most enthusiastic person for this program. The thing I was most concerned about was consumer protection. I know how important this is. Once I started asking about what those protections were I became more comfortable with the program,” Ruger said.

“The fact is if you are senior citizen and are on some kind of payment program, you will continue on a payment program; the fact is if you are on solar, you will not be touched by this unless you want to do it; if you are with a third party you will stay with that third party provider, unless you want to do this,” he explained.