BELPRE - Belpre City Council passed the final reading of legislation to approve an amendment to the city's master agreement for the city's electric aggregation program during a special meeting Monday.
All six council members in attendance unanimously approved to continue with the program, despite the significant increase in cost. Larry Martin, 1st Ward, was the only council member absent.
Fred Holmes and Chris Munn, Belpre's representatives in the natural gas and electric aggregation programs with Volunteer Energy Services, explained changes to the rates offered to the city in the electric aggregation program as the six council members in attendance asked for more information.
Belpre City Law Director Tom Webster, left, tells city council members that neither choice they could make regarding the changes in rates to the city’s electric aggregation program will be the wrong one according to residents as council President Will Neff, right, looks on during council’s meeting Monday to pass the final reading of the agreement’s changes. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
Fred Holmes, the city’s representative in the natural gas and electric aggregation programs with Volunteer Energy, speaks to Belpre City Council during the special meeting Monday about changes to the rates offered to the city in the electric aggregation program. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
"The rates went down a little bit from what we expected, but not a lot," Holmes said. "The commercial rate is in the ballpark of rates offered by other companies, but the residential is much higher."
When Holmes went before council during the May 12 meeting, the rates had not been set, but were by Monday's meeting.
The new rate is 9.3 per kilowatt hour for residential and 7.32 for commercial customers, offered by DPL Energy Resources through Belpre. This is a significant increase from the 5.99 for residential and 5.3 for commercial originally offered through the aggregation program.
During the roughly half-hour discussion, some council members said they had never joined the program while others said they had and planned to stay with it. Some said they will opt-out during this change.
"It doesn't matter which way you go, the public is going to have your heads," City Law Director Tom Webster told council. "Frankly speaking, you, as council, will lose this circumstance no matter which way you vote."
Despite knowing there will be issues as many residents called the city building in confusion when the program began, council chose to follow Holmes' advice: to approve the change to keep the program going while recommending commercial customers stay in for their good rate and residential customers opt-out and find another electric supplier to save funds.
"I like the idea of renewing this and giving people the opportunity to opt-out," Holmes said. "If you do not do it, you will still be certified, but once you disband it, it will be very tough to get things together again."
Councilwoman Donna Miller agreed with Holmes because energy prices are not going to go down.
"These electric prices are just going up and we aren't going to see any relief," she said. "I prefer to get in on the price being offered now to save some money later.
"(Besides) we aren't signing up for the whole city and they can opt-out," Miller continued.
Customers now have the option to opt-out or remain in the program at these new rates "but it places a lot of responsibility on your residents," Holmes told council.
Belpre residents now have until June 23 to opt-out of the city's electric aggregation program. This requires individuals to contact Volunteer Energy Services to say they do not want to be part of the program.
Holmes said he and Munn will come to Belpre and work with residents to help educate people about the program.
"Both Chris and I have committed to doing anything we can to help - take phone calls, answer questions on site," Holmes said. "We work for the City of Belpre, not DPL, and we will do the best we can to make sure your residents are as informed as possible."
The first two readings of this legislation was passed during the May 12 regular meeting.
In November 2011, Belpre voters passed the opt-out programs to allow the city to serve as aggregator of electric and natural gas, which had the potential to save residents money if they choose to go with the city for these bills.
The city began the electric aggregation service in August 2012. Belpre's natural gas service began this past autumn.
"We want to do the right thing for all of our citizens - commercial and residential, all the way around - but it is very difficult," said councilwoman Susan Abdella.