Trustees quest First Energy about rising bills

CALCUTTA-Trustees have received many phone calls in recent months from concerned township residents wanting to know why their electric bill is still so expensive despite the township entering into an aggregation program in 2011.

Trustees turned to a First Energy Solution (FES) representative for answers and were presented with the decision to recertify the aggregation program, thereby allowing it to continue.

“Everybody thought they were going to save money and their electric bill has been getting jacked,” said Trustee Chairman Swickard.

FES Community Aggregation Representative Benjamin Rich attended Tueday’s trustees meeting. He said AEP is responsible for the rising cost of electric bills. He explained that the township’s program is a “percent off program,” meaning FES subtracts a percentage of the cost charged by American Electric Power Ohio (AEP), the township’s electric distributor..

“If the price got jacked it’s AEP who jacked it,” said Rich. “We can’t do much to control what they do, all we can do is offer a better price than what they offer at the time.”

“Yea we got like 8 percent off and then it went up 15 percent,” countered Swickard.

In 2012 the township’s electric rates increased due to AEP’s electric security program. The program was overturned by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), who ordered AEP to return their rates to a similar level of those that were in place in 2011. FES representatives at the time told township residents to expect their bill to decrease in the near future.

Rich explained to trustees Tuesday that FES is a energy generation company while AEP is a energy distribution company and, as such, AEP’s rates are set by PUCO.

Rich told trustees that since St. Clair Township had aggregated, PUCO requires that they recertify so they can gather data about their aggregation program. By not recertifying the township would no longer be able to aggregate.

“They kind of like to monitor the market and see who is aggregating, who’s shopping, who isn’t,” said Rich. “When we first started this it was in the 10 to 15 percent range and now its upwards 65 or 70 percent of people who shop (for cheaper electric).”

Rich presented trustees with a chart illustrating the savings of township residential customers under the aggregation program. The chart showed individuals residential customers saving about $83 per year. Savings for the entire community, including businesses, totaled about $406,989 since the township decided to aggregate in 2011. These total savings include a $30,930 “Powering Our Communities Grant,” which the township was awarded for signing up the township’s roughly 3,579 households.

St. Clair Township has a nine year aggregation contract with FES, but individual residents are able to opt out or renew every three years.

The next time township residents will have the chance to opt out or renew without a fee will be in April 2015 according to Rich. He noted that residents can opt out any time by paying a $25 cancellation fee.

Trustee James Sabatini questioned whether the fee to opt out was not higher, saying he was aware of cases where the cancellation fee for township residents was much more expensive- as much as $250.

“Not for the government aggregation program. He might be on a mass market program with another company or even one of our mass market programs, but our is $25,” said Rich. “Ours is never above $25.”

“Seems confusing,” said Sabatini. “There’s all these retailers, so to speak, out there now.”

Trustee agreed that the township entering the aggregation program and AEP raising their rates was simply an unfortunate coincidence.

“It just hit at the same time, the rate increase and this aggregate program came to be and it didn’t seem like there were any savings at all,” said Hall.

Trustees voted unanimously to recertify the aggregation program.