“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” – Groucho Marx.
Woody Allen used this quote at the beginning of the movie “Annie Hall” to describe his relationships with women. Great movie if you’ve never seen it. A paraphrase of that quote could describe how some people feel about government – “I refuse to join any club that the government would prefer I be a member.”
But sometimes there are benefits to joining the herd, especially when the herd’s bargaining power can be used to wrestle better prices out of everyone’s second favorite punching bag after the IRS – utility companies. That is the point of the county’s government electricity aggregation program.
Have you ever been to a meeting where people discussed a topic that you really didn’t understand so you sat quietly and nodded your head whenever someone looked your way? About twice a year, the representative from Palmer Energy, our electricity aggregation broker, comes to the Commissioners’ Office to give us an update on our program. For two years, I sat quietly and nodded my head when someone looked my way.
Unable to learn much through the sheer force of time and osmosis as I’d hoped, when he came this week, I just flat out admitted that I didn’t understand what any of it was about. I live in a Co-op service area that isn’t eligible for aggregation anyway. But I figured if I had this much exposure and still didn’t understand it, there must be several people similarly adrift in that boat. Our rep was more than happy to very slowly explain.
In 2012, certain townships, villages, and the City of Van Wert, voted to enter into a government electricity aggregation program. This put individual consumers into a county-wide pool to increase bargaining power. There are two parts in providing power to your home – the delivery and the supply. The delivery part involves the lines and the poles and billing and the company doing that in much of the county is AEP, which has an absolute monopoly in its zones of operation.
Electrical aggregation effects the supply part of the equation. There are several companies that supply power – basically purchasing it from power plants and reselling it. The supply price for the parts of the county that entered aggregation in 2012 has remained $5.85 per kWh ever since. AEP’s delivery charges add on another two or three cents to the total rate.
If your governing entity, meaning your township or town, voted to enter aggregation, then you are automatically signed-up and have to take some action to opt out of it. Here’s where some confusion began. First Energy is the company that won the 2012 contract, so everyone in an aggregation zone was automatically signed up with that company. But then, another division of First Energy began trying to sell a different contract in the county. Some people understandably thought that they had to sign that contract to enter into or remain in the aggregation program, but really, they were opting out of aggregation into a different program.
First Energy was eventually convinced to knock it off although other companies continued to sell their products. You may still get flyers and calls trying to sign you up with different electricity suppliers. Doing so would automatically remove you from aggregation.
Another source of confusion derives from the fact that your utility companies are far from perfect. Just because you should have gotten the lower rates doesn’t mean you weren’t conveniently over-looked in a billing program. This is more common than you might think. If you are in an AEP service area and your bill does not have First Energy on it as the supplier, you are not getting the aggregation price. Don’t be afraid to call and complain. Also don’t be afraid to be put on hold for longer than would seem necessary.
It is easier to list the places in the county that are not in aggregation than it is to list the ones that are. First, if your electric company is Midwest Electric or Paulding-Putnam Electric, you are in a Co-op and not eligible for aggregation. That is why, like me, you may have been blissfully ignorant of the drama with aggregation and the outlier supply companies. About half of the rural population is served by one of these two Co-ops.
As for the towns: Delphos does its own aggregation and is not in the county plan. Ohio City is not in aggregation because it has its own municipal power supply. Venedocia, Scott, and Elgin are not in aggregation but should consider it as they are all served by AEP.
The only townships not in aggregation are Tully and Hoaglin. 95% of Tully and 80% of Hoaglin are served by Paulding-Putnam and not eligible for aggregation. Willshire Township joined aggregation a year late. Partly because of that and partly because it has some areas served by Dayton Power and Light, that township gets different rates and different suppliers than the rest of the county.
Nothing keeps you from opting for a different supplier than the aggregation supplier. It is unlikely your purchasing power would get a better price than you and all your neighbors in the county combined but you can try. Some might offer sweet deals for a year but beware what could befall in year two. If there is an optimal supplier, the county program will opt for that supplier or wrangle that rate out of its current supplier when the contract is reviewed at the end of every two year period anyway.
Almost always, the government electricity aggregation rate will be the best option. You can exercise this option by doing nothing and continuing to do so, a remarkably easy thing to do considering how complicated the utility companies have tried to make it.