The majority of Prairie Township residents who attended a town hall meeting last week were positive about the potential for the township board of trustees to negotiate on their behalf for lower electric bills.
The April 17 town hall meeting gave residents a chance to ask questions about Issue 12, which will appear on the May 7 ballot. If approved, it will allow the township to start an electricity aggregation program.
That program will allow the trustees to negotiate rates with electric companies on the residents' behalf, potentially saving them money.
Utilities consultant Scott Belcastro explained to the more than 40 residents at the meeting how aggregation works and how much residents could potentially save.
"We now have a competitive market," Belcastro said. "You are now allowed to switch suppliers to save money."
He explained that the state of Ohio has deregulated electricity services. AEP (American Electric Power) will still be in charge of infrastructure and the distribution of electricity; however, it is how AEP generates and transmits that electricity that is changing, he said.
By 2015, Ohio will be 100 percent deregulated, meaning all electricity will come from an alternative supplier, Belcastro said. Residents will have no choice but to choose their supplier or have AEP determine it for them through an annual auction where suppliers bid on rates.
"Government aggregation allows government entities to negotiate on your behalf," he said. "You can do 10 percent better than doing it on your own."
Belcastro said if residents vote in favor of Issue 12, they can expect to see a 20-percent savings each month, starting this fall. Small businesses are expected to save even more, at 34 percent, he said.
Should the measure be voted in and some residents don't wish to participate, there is an opt-out provision, Belcastro said.
"If it is voted in, the program is still voluntary," Belcastro said. "There is no risk. You can join or leave the program at any time."
Resident Deb Thomas said she understands that she can save a lot of money, but is concerned for herself and other residents who are on fixed incomes and are already enrolled in a budget program with AEP to pay a fixed amount each month.
Belcastro said two-thirds of her bill will fluctuate from month-to-month if she is on the program, however she will still be paying less.
"That could be a deterrent for me and others to not vote for the program," Thomas said. "Tell me why we should vote for it."
Trustee Steve Kennedy said residents would win by voting in favor of Issue 12 because it allows them a choice to either have the township negotiate for them or do the negotiating themselves. Should the measure be voted down, then residents will have to negotiate with the different electric companies themselves, he said.
"In the end, there is an opt-out opportunity," Kennedy said. "We will be able to save residents 20 percent on their bill. That is an enormous savings. We chose to put it on the ballot for voters to decide."
Belcastro said the savings potential for the township overall, including residents and businesses, will be huge.
"I can assure you, this will be a $1-million savings for Prairie Township," Belcastro said.