May 1, 2003
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Vote yes on Issue 4

Yellow Springs voters have an easy choice when they go to the polls on Tuesday, May 6: they should approve Issue 4, which would set up a municipal aggregate system to secure natural gas contracts. By voting yes, local residents would give the Village the authority to negotiate on behalf of the community natural gas rates with suppliers.

With its experience running its own utilities and negotiating electric rates, the Village should be able to help residents choose suppliers at fair rates. And that’s the ultimate point of aggregation: chances are the Village could negotiate rates that are better, and likely lower, than residents could. Forming a large buying group here would give individual residents more buying power. At the very least, a yes vote would give local residents another option for purchasing natural gas.

Approval of Issue 4, the only local issue on the May 6 ballot, would allow the Village to establish an opt-out system, meaning that most residential and small commercial customers would automatically be included in a buying group. While the program would not be a moneymaker for the Village, the local government would be responsible for negotiating gas rates for Yellow Springs customers. Villagers, however, would not be required to participate in the program. Instead, they could opt out of the buying group and choose their own natural gas suppliers.

The Village wouldn’t be out on a limb with this program. It would work with AMPO, Inc., an affiliate of American Municipal Power of Ohio, the Village’s electricity supplier. AMPO is experienced with utility deregulation and would be able to help the Village negotiate fair rates for residents.

Some may be leery of this issue because it’s part of Ohio’s natural gas deregulation program. But at this stage of the game, with the natural gas industry in its sixth year of deregulation, concerns for the system would be best addressed with the Ohio General Assembly than by voting against the Village’s plan. This area is now a deregulated market, so getting the Village involved could provide some security for local customers, since the Village is not out to make a profit on aggregation.

This is the third special election Yellow Springs voters have had to decide in the last four years. Compared to the other two — a divisive recall election and a referendum on a contentious affordable housing project — Tuesday’s election is straightforward and not controversial. Creating an aggregate buying group here is not a gamble. And given the fact that the Village would be working for its residents, voting yes on Issue 4 makes sense.

—Robert Mihalek