Athens City, County Go With Local Firm For Electric Aggregation

By
Steve Robb - Athens Messenger staff reporter

Dateline
Updated Wed, Mar 12, 2014 10:24 am

By a split vote Tuesday, the Athens County Commissioners decided to go with a newly formed local company to guide the county through electric aggregation.

The city of Athens, which is also pursuing aggregation, has selected the same company.

Aggregation is the process by which customers are pooled together to get a lower price from an electricity supplier. The commissioners have hired Energy Planning Associates LLC as its consultant for aggregation.

Commissioners Charlie Adkins and Chris Chmiel voted in favor of hiring the company, but Commissioner Lenny Eliason voted against it.

Eliason said he would have preferred hiring Palmer Energy, a consultant that works with the County Commissioners Association of Ohio on energy matters. Eliason said Palmer has experience in aggregation and with working with counties, and he pointed out that Athens County participates in natural gas aggregation through Palmer Energy for county government buildings.

Eliason said having Palmer Energy as an aggregator would have allowed county residents to be part of a larger pool of customers when seeking electricity rate quotes from suppliers.

"I think we'd get a better price with a larger pool, but that remains to be seen. We'll see what happens when we go out to bid (for electricity rate quotes)," Eliason said.

Eliason referred to Energy Planning Associates LLC as a "one person shop." Roger Wilkens is the managing member of Energy Planning Associates.

Chmiel said going with the local company is the best choice.

"I think we're going to be able to come up with the best deal for the community," Chmiel said, and by that he means more than just lower electricity prices.

Chmiel said goals include promoting energy efficiency, and also promoting economic development by expanding local creation of renewable energy.

"We're aiming higher than just lower pricing ...," Chmiel said, but not to the degree that it will jeopardize those lower prices.

He also said that just because Energy Planning Associates is new, doesn't mean the company can't do aggregation the right way.

"It's not rocket science," said Chmiel, who has been a strong proponent of having a local consultant handle the aggregation. "My name is on this, I'm going to do it right."

Energy Planning Associates is charging a $25,000 fee, which Chmiel said will be divided equally between the county and the city of Athens. Voters in Athens and in the unincorporated areas of the county voted last November in favor of aggregation.

On Tuesday, Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl also signed a contract with Energy Planning Associates.

"I think it's going to be cheaper in the long run," Wiehl said. "It's good that we're going to do it as locally as possible."

Chmiel said the next step is for the city and county to form an aggregation council, to be called the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council. According to Chmiel, it is the council that will actually seek price quotes from electricity suppliers through a request for proposals. He said creating the council will make it possible for other communities to join the aggregation pool, if they wish.

The village of Amesville has an electric aggregation measure on the May ballot. The Amesville measure, as well as those approved by voters in Athens and the in the unincorporated areas of the county, is for "opt out" aggregation. That means electricity customers will automatically be part of the pool, but will be given an opportunity to opt out of the program. In the county, people who are customers of Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative cannot be part of the pool. Also, those who participate in the Percentage of Income Payment Plan cannot be part of the pool.

Chmiel said an operation and governance plan for the aggregation council will also need to be developed. He said work on the plan, as well as on the request for proposals, is already under way.

The contract with Energy Planning Associates says the company will hold two state-required public hearings on the aggregation program.

Chmiel said the goal is to, within the next two months, send out the request for proposals and have responses from electricity suppliers.

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