If Worthington residents buy into Issue 39 on the Nov. 6 ballot, city leaders will consider whether to pool the community's purchasing power to negotiate a bulk price and potentially lower electricity bills.

The measure was introduced in March by Worthington City Council members David Robinson and Doug Smith and sent to the ballot in June by City Council.

Robinson said the goal is threefold: to save households money, to have a renewable-energy option available to residents and to have a no-cost opt-out option for every resident.

"To me, this represents sound public policy and should be appealing to people across the political spectrum," he said.

Smith said residents seem receptive to the proposal and generally fall into two camps: those who like renewable energy but want to save money and those who want to support renewable energy by any means possible.

"I think it's a great way to kind of marry those two ideological camps," he said.

Rich Surace, COO for the Energy Alliances consultant group that Worthington has chosen to implement the ballot initiative, said Issue 39 would allow the city to continue its path to becoming a governmental aggregator, a community that forms a buying group on behalf of its residents.

Under Ohio law, residents may negotiate prices with energy suppliers individually. But by turning thousands of residents into one large "energy buyer," the city, in theory, would have added leverage in negotiations to ensure that the price people pay for their energy supply is lower. Worthington has about 14,600 residents, according to a 2017 Census Bureau estimate.

Consultants from Energy Alliances would negotiate a deal with a supplier on the city's behalf. Per an agreement, the consultant group would be paid only if the ballot issue were approved and a deal with a supplier were approved by City Council, in which case a fee would be worked into it, city officials have said.

Because Issue 39 is an opt-out aggregation program – residents automatically would be enrolled and would have to choose not to participate in the program – it requires approval by residents in a citywide ballot issue, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio's website, puco.ohio.gov.

Voters' assent would allow city leaders to continue to explore the option, and residents could opt out at any time, Surace said.

He previously said the plan calls for AEP to remain the electricity distributor and service provider, but the city would shop for a new electricity supplier in an effort to obtain the best financial deal and support the generation of clean energy.

Instead of consumers paying the default rate set by the utility company – in this case, AEP – Worthington would attempt to negotiate a lower rate with any of the 157 competitive retail electricity-service providers operating in Ohio.

Residents would pay their monthly bills to AEP and continue to report any service issues or power outages to AEP, regardless of what company is selected as the supplier, Surace said.

Residents could opt out by calling a number that will be included in a letter mailed to those who are eligible, mailing back an attached form or submitting their information to the PUCO via phone or on its website, he said. Residents can add themselves to the PUCO list in advance, he said, so they would not receive communications about electricity aggregation.

Meanwhile, the renewable-energy component could be accomplished by a supplier offering renewable-energy certificates, or RECs, which represent one megawatt hour of investment in a renewable-energy source, most likely wind power from Texas, in the agreement, according to Surace.

If Issue 39 were approved, the next step in the process would be for Worthington to develop a plan for how the program would work, Surace said.

The city then would hold two public meetings to inform residents, he said.

After that, the process would entail Worthington filing with the state of Ohio to become a governmental aggregator. If that were approved, a list detailing eligible residents for the program would be obtained from American Electric Power. According to Worthington's website, worthington.org, residents whose electricity is supplied by another company other than AEP would not be immediately eligible for the program.

Surace said residents could expect an average savings of 7 to 10 percent on their electricity bills.

"There are savings that are tied to little effort," he said.

Surace said the overall price for the aggregation program would be fixed for a term, so residents would pay a consistent amount for that entire period.

Neither participating in the program nor opting out would have a cost, according to Surace.

Robinson said both Cincinnati and Cleveland have aggregation programs.

He said Worthington could help set an example so that other central Ohio cities such as Columbus could consider a program in the future.

Dublin and Reynoldsburg are the only two cities in Franklin County registered as government electricity aggregators with the PUCO, according to an interactive map on the PUCO website. Columbus does not have an aggregation program, according to the map.

"Here in Worthington, even though we are only a community of 15,000 people, we can set an example for other communities," Robinson said.

Smith said the important thing for residents to keep in mind is Issue 39 allows the city to explore the aggregation option.

"It doesn't commit us to anything," he said.

ThisWeek was not able to identify any organized opposition groups to Issue 39.

For more information about Issue 39, go to worthington.org/electric.

Kevin Stankiewicz of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.

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