North Brunswick residents will vote on energy program if council does not adopt ordinance

NORTH BRUNSWICK – The North Brunswick Township Council will review an ordinance regarding a community energy aggregation program on Aug. 30; if the council does not take action, residents will vote on the measure in a referendum.

Township Attorney Ronald Gordon explained that North Brunswick follows the Faulkner Act, which means if a petition is circulated and approved by the clerk’s office, and garners the appropriate number of signatures, and is verified against the township’s voter registration lists, the petition goes to the governing body as an initial ordinance.

Of the 42,000 residents of North Brunswick, a petition would need 482 signatures, and 495 signatures were submitted regarding community aggregation earlier this year, Gordon said.

As such, the first reading of the ordinance was held during a special workshop meeting on Aug. 23 and the second reading and public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30.

If the ordinance is adopted by members of the Township Council on Aug. 30, residents will have the option to choose electricity with more renewable content and at a lower cost than PSE&G.

Community Choice Aggregation allows the township to create a large buying group for electricity made up of residential and non-residential customers so it can seek lower energy supply costs, according to Jim Walsh, a senior energy policy analyst with Food and Water Action, who spoke during the April 27 council workshop meeting.

A PSE&G customer’s bill is made up of two parts – the power supply service charge and the delivery service charge. The Community Choice Aggregation program affects the power supply portion of the bill, or the cost of the kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity.

Walsh explained that the energy will come from a third party provider via a bid process.

The program does not affect the delivery service portion of the bill. PSE&G is still responsible for delivering electricity, reading the meter and sending out the bill. In the event of a power failure, PSE&G is responsible for making repairs and restoring electricity.

Residents will be automatically enrolled, but may quit at any time without penalty. Notices would be mailed to all PSE&G customers notifying them of the program and the 30-day opt-out period, he said.

Commercial entities would not be automatically enrolled, but have the choice to opt in.

Gordon explained the reasoning for the automatic opt in is because the idea is to create a program of energy savings and financial savings, and people may not opt in on their own.

“The likelihood of being successful is significantly reduced if it’s opt in vs. opt out,” he said.

Residents will be provided with more detailed information within 30 days of the township receiving bids, said Vaughn Parchment, who works with Gordon at Rainone Coughlin Minchello. They will also receive information on how to opt out.

Parchment said residents can opt out any time after opting in.

The information will probably be disseminated through mailers, similar to tax bills, Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack said.

In addition, because the cost is built into the contract, the rates will not be affected as residents opt out, Walsh had said. There is no minimum number of residents because the bid is based on 100% participation.

If the council adopts the ordinance on Aug. 30, North Brunswick will go through a procurement process, either through bid or Request for Proposal (RFP), for a consultant to provide green energy to the municipality, Gordon said.

“The idea is that community energy aggregation is going to put together a program, send it out on an RFP, award it to a provider who will theoretically give us an energy savings,” but if it is for a limited period of time, the township might have to renew the RFP process and get a new provider, he said.

New Jersey currently requires that a minimum of 21% of energy sold is renewable, while the number will increase to 50% by 2033. This is due to Gov. Phil Murphy’s commitment to having offshore wind power in three million homes by 2050.

Gordon said that in the first year of the program, the energy has to be 50% renewable electricity for all the program participants. It then goes up by a 10% basis: 60% by 2023, 70% by 2025, 80% by 2027, 90% from Jan. 1, 2028, to 2029; and 100% renewable energy after Dec. 31, 2029.

If the aggregation program does not result in savings, any person can opt out, Gordon said. Or, if the benchmarks are not met, the program will fail, he said.

“It’s supposed to support green energy. It’s supposed to provide for a cleaner environment. And it’s also supposed to have some energy savings,” Gordon said.

If the council does not adopt the ordinance on Aug. 30, then the question will go to voters through a referendum. The Middlesex County Board of Elections would determine the date, possibly during the general election on Nov. 2.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com