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    Southwick consultant hopes state will speed approvals for electric aggregation


    September 15, 2023 - Cliff Clark

     

      SOUTHWICK — Despite a logjam of municipal aggregation applications pending before state regulators, the town continues the process of getting its project started.

      "We're still making progress on it," said Select Board member Jason Perron, who has been the lead on the project since proposing it earlier this year to save electricity consumers on their monthly bill.

      He said that in the past two weeks, he and several town officials including Chief Administrative Officer Karl Stinehart attended a conference call with officials from Colonial Power Group, including its vice president of power supply strategies, Stuart Ormsbee, to get an update on steps being taken the state Department of Public Utilities to streamline the application process for municipalities pursuing aggregation.

      Municipal aggregation is a process by which residents of a community join together to pool their electrical load to purchase power at lower per-kilowatt-hour rates, and also have the choice to buy clean energy.

      When Perron floated the idea, his research indicated that getting the project operational would take four to six months to complete.

      However, the DPU is currently taking an average of 400 days to approve an application, according to the Green Energy Consumers Alliance.

      In August, the DPU announced it was opening an "investigation to establish municipal aggregation guidelines, with the goal of creating a more streamlined process of Massachusetts cities and town."

      "I think they're committed to improving the processes," Ormsbee said this week.

      However, he wasn't sure how long the DPU might take to development the new streamlined process.

      Perron was also encouraged about the DPU taking positive steps to address the logjam.

      "They [DPU] needed to do something about it," Perron said.

      According to the DPU website, it is taking comments on new guidelines and template plans through next Monday, Sept. 18.

      While the town hasn't signed an agreement with Colonial, Perron said that part of the conference call included going over a contract that he said is being reviewed by Ben Coyle, the town's attorney, and Beacon Integrated Solutions' Beth Greenblatt, an energy consultant the town has been using for several years.

      "We've been talking to [Colonial] since the get-go. We've been leaning toward working with Colonial," Perron said of the consulting company that currently serves as the consultant for aggregation programs in 90 cities and towns throughout the state. Half of their client towns are in Western Massachusetts. Ormsbee said Springfield recently signed an agreement with Colonial to serve as its consultant for its aggregation project.

      Colonial Power Group does not generate or sell electricity of its own.

      Ormsbee described Colonial as a "turn-key service." That includes a significant public outreach to inform customers of the benefits of aggregation was a way to reduce their annual electricity costs, he said.

      "We take care of everything most towns don't have the capacity or resources for," he said, including developing the plan, getting the necessary state regulatory approvals, and providing the town a list of electricity suppliers to choose from.

      The program is funded by customers paying one-tenth of 1 cent for every kilowatt-hour used.

      Greenblatt said in June an "average" customer who uses 7,500 kilowatts of electricity annually will pay $7.50, or 62.5 cents a month. Customers who use 10,000 kilowatts hours per year will pay $10 a year, or 83.3 cents a month.

      There are some municipalities that run their aggregation project in-house, but Perron said that option is "down the road."

      "Let's get it up and running," he said.

      If Colonial, or another consultant, is chosen, it will propose what is called the "standard" plan, which is the electricity rate that all customers will be automatically enrolled in once the aggregation plan is implemented.

      According to the state Department of Energy Resources, the standard plan will always include the amount of renewable energy required by law, but a municipal aggregation may also choose to include additional "renewable energy products" in the plan.

      The option to include additional renewable energy rates is one of the benefits of the program, Perron said earlier.

      "[Customers] could choose a rate where 20%, 50%, or even 100% of the electricity they're buying could be green," Perron said, adding that renewable electricity rates are typically more than the standard rate.

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