The Central Ohio Public Energy Council (COPEC) has decided to suspend its natural gas aggregation program.

The Central Ohio Public Energy Council (COPEC) has decided to suspend its natural gas aggregation program.

COPEC, a consortium of five local municipalities -- Grandview Heights, Upper Arlington, Bexley, Dublin and Gahanna -- will allow its contract with IGS Energy to end in October.

"We're not terminating the aggregation set-up," said Emma Speight, Upper Arlington deputy city manager for community affairs. "It's something we may return to someday if the conditions are right."

COPEC's member communities jointly agreed to suspend the program, Speight said.

On Friday, the group notified IGS, which serves as the consortium's natural gas supplier, and AMP Partners, its third party administrator, of its decision, she said.

"When the communities started the program, there was very little choice for consumers and gas prices were rapidly rising," said Patrik Bowman, Grandview's director of administration/economic development. "Now there are more providers out there and gas prices have really tumbled this year.

"We never promised residents there was a guarantee that they'd get the lowest natural gas price through the aggregation program," he said. "All we said was here was another option for them to consider."

Participating in the gas aggregation program has always been a gamble for residents, Speight said.

"It's playing a futures market with natural gas," she said. "You buying gas at what is the best price at that time."

"You're opting for the security of a negotiated fixed rate" while the rates charged by Columbia Gas fluctuate monthly according to the market, Bowman said.

Over the last few years, most of the time, that has meant participants in the aggregation program were paying much higher rates than Columbia Gas customers, he said.

This year, COPEC negotiated a price of 83 cents per 100 cubic feet of natural gas, a rate that is about double the price charged by Columbia Gas.

The growing number of gas providers and the glut of gas this year as demand has fallen has helped to lower the price of gas more than anticipated, Speight said.

Columbia Gas has also changed its gas purchasing practices, she said.

Earlier this year, Columbia held its first auction to secure natural gas supplies for its customers for April 2010 to April 2011.

Voters in all five communities approved ballot measures to authorize joining COPEC.

Upper Arlington voters approved a ballot measure six years ago and Grandview voters gave their approval in 2005.

"At that time, gas was around $1.40 and it seemed like a good deal at the time," Bowman said.

A total of 24,319 customers are currently enrolled in the COPEC program.

As of March 1, 2010, Upper Arlington has 6,686 households enrolled in the COPEC program, Speight said. The city has about 14,000 households in total, she said.

In Grandview, 1,073 residents are enrolled this year, a drop of 35 percent from the beginning of 2009, Bowman said.

Residents in all five communities will receive a letter in August telling them their options, Speight said.

If they do nothing, they will revert to Columbia Gas rates, she said.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio offers an apples to apples comparison of gas providers' rates on its Web site,, Speight said.