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Richfield voters to weigh in on natural gas option

9/27/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

RICHFIELD — If voters in the village approve Issue No. 54 on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot, residents could be on their way to seeing savings on their natural gas bills in the future through aggregation.

Law Director Bill Hanna said the Ohio Revised Code requires that the village go to the electors to make the initial decision as to whether aggregation can occur. 

An aggregation program allows residents to band together to get a lower natural-gas rate than they could get on their own, according to village officials. The opt-out provision means participation is not mandatory.

The ballot issue reads: “Shall the Village of Richfield have the authority to aggregate the retail natural gas loads located within the village and enter into service agreements for the sale and purchase of natural gas, such aggregation to occur automatically except where any person elects to opt out?”

This is the first time the village is pursuing natural gas aggregation, Hanna said. Two years ago, in the May 2010 Primary Election, Richfield voters approved a ballot issue on electric aggregation, he said.

Village Council President Mike Wheeler said a second public hearing on the electric aggregation program is set for Oct. 2 at 7:45 p.m. If that goes as planned, the village will likely participate in the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council (NOPEC) program for electric service, he said.

Hanna said he didn’t have exact numbers, but he believes a “pretty high percentage” of village residents use natural gas for heating or cooking.

If residents support the issue, Hanna said the next step would be for the village to host two public hearings.

“The key is that the plan and program has to disclose to residents they will be automatically enrolled and remain unless they opt out,” Hanna said.

The public hearings would likely take place after the first of the year, he added.

Once the issue passes, Council also is authorized to begin looking at providers. NOPEC is a possibility, but there are others out there, Hanna said.

He added that aggregation would be a positive thing for residents.

“Gas rates are much better than they were four or five years ago, but the sense of Council is through this ordinance, by pooling demand, maybe further price improvements can be achieved,” he said.

If the issue passes, Hanna said the village could be part of a gas aggregation plan by the beginning of next year’s heating season.

Mayor Bobbie Beshara said that any campaign about the issue will be informational in nature. If Council sees the need, there could be a public hearing scheduled on the issue before Election Day, she added.

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