The Post - Athens

From November 2012 to November 2013, I worked as a beat report for Ohio University's student newspaper The Post. I mainly focused on Athens City Council and covered stories on local energy, transit, housing, and construction projects. 

Power to the people: Athens puts electric aggregation on November ballot

By Cassie Kelly | September 5, 2013

Athens City Council made the decision to put electric aggregation on the November ballot and, if passed, could mean huge changes for how Athens residents get their energy.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio describes aggregation as a process of a government entity, state or local, to join with their citizens to buy natural gas and/or electricity for the city. This gives the city control to sell the resource at a lower cost to residents.

County commissioners put a similar aggregation initiative on the ballot, which some council members say — though it might seem redundant — would give the city more purchasing power when buying electricity.

If both pass, it would allow the city and county to work in tandem, making the transition easier for the community, according to Mayor Paul Wiehl.

But city and county officials can’t determine how much cheaper it would be until the legislation passes, said Ron Lucas, the city’s deputy service safety director.

Although the administration is still in the planning phase with this program, Lucas said he firmly believes the aggregation will save money for commercial businesses and residents.

Resident will be able to resign from the program if they don’t want to be a part of it.

Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, reassured the public and said, “even if this moves forward on the county level, there will be all sorts of opportunities for public input.

“For a community like Athens, it is something we might really want to do.”

Another benefit to passing the legislation is green energy credit, meaning more grants, and being more conscientious of the environment.

“We can ensure that a greater percentage of our energy purchase is coming from renewable sources and, even potentially, some local renewable sources,” said interim councilwoman Jennifer Cochran, D-at large.

An ordinance for Gas Aggregation was discussed, but lacked the two-third vote needed to be put on the May Primary ballot for the city.

The reason there is such a newfound focus on electric aggregation is that the industry is being deregulated in Ohio, resulting in opportunity for cheaper rates.

Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, said that means consumers will be overwhelmed with offers from electric companies.  She was arguing that if Athens can pass electric aggregation, buying power from the city will not only be a cheaper option, but an easier one.

“(Athens citizens) can say ‘no, thank you’ and not have to deal with all the marketers,” said Fahl.

Council members discussed all the enthusiasm they are receiving from residents thus far. Fahl said she has already received phone calls from people wanting her business. And, brokers are offering to “go shopping” for them when it comes to buying the power. Even Ohio University President Roderick McDavis is interested in the discussion.

 “If we can strike now while the iron is hot with the county, lets get it done,” said Cochran.

Read the original story in The Post, here.