May 1, 2003
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On the May 6 ballot—
Voters to decide natural gas issue

Yellow Springs voters will head to the polls next Tuesday to decide whether the Village can negotiate natural gas rates on behalf of local residents.

If approved, Issue 4 will set up a municipal natural gas aggregation system here, overseen by the Village, as part of the State of Ohio’s natural gas deregulation program. In January, Village Council agreed to place the issue on the ballot, saying that the Village could negotiate better gas rates than individual customers.

The State’s deregulation law mandates that voters approve municipal aggregation programs. According to the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, since 1999 more than 190 communities in Ohio have approved ballot issues authorizing aggregation programs.

Issue 4 is the only local issue on the May 6 ballot, which in Yellow Springs will feature electronic voting machines. The Greene County Board of Elections decided to test the new machines in town, instead of using the punch-card systems the County normally uses.

Information on the election was presented at an April 22 forum, sponsored by the Yellow Springs Men’s Group. The forum featured Greg Sloan, general manager of AMPO, Inc., a for-profit affiliate of American Municipal Power of Ohio (AMP-Ohio), the Village’s wholesale electricity supplier, and Kim Talley, manager of Vectren Energy Delivery’s Choice Program.

The forum will be broadcast on the local cable access station, channel 13, on Monday and Tuesday, May 5 and 6.

Approval of the ballot issue would allow the Village to establish an opt-out aggregate buying group that would initially include all eligible customers. Local residents would have the option to opt out of, or not participate in, the buying group. In that case those customers could choose their own natural gas suppliers, or stick with the current supplier, Vectren. Anyone enrolled in the Village’s program would have the option to opt out every two years without paying a fee. Residents who opt out may also join the Village’s buying group later.

Opt-out aggregation is geared toward residential and small commercial customers. Large industrial and commercial businesses consuming a large supply of natural gas are not eligible to participate in the program.

Under the program, the Village would work with AMPO, which specializes in natural gas and electric aggregation, develop an aggregation plan, negotiate rates and educate the community on gas issues. Sloan described aggregation as a way to combine a number of customers into a buying group to purchase utility services “hopefully at a lower rate.”

Sloan said that AMPO would try to negotiate rates for one or two years. A contract could be negotiated by late summer, he said, at which time local residents would be notified through written correspondence of terms and conditions of the proposed contract. Villagers would then have the choice to opt out of the Village’s program.

The new rates could go into effect by early fall, before the 2003–04 “heating season,” Sloan said.

The opt-out program would be similar to the Village’s electric system, which does not generate its own power but instead works with AMP-Ohio and other area communities to purchase electricity from suppliers. The Village does own and maintain electric lines and a substation on Fairfield Pike.

One way natural gas aggregation would differ from electricity is that the Village would not own the gas pipelines through which natural gas would be delivered to Yellow Springs customers. Instead, Vectren would continue to deliver natural gas to town. Vectren would also respond to emergencies, read meters and maintain billing responsibilities.

The program would not provide additional revenue for the Village, Sloan said.

If Yellow Springs residents do not want to participate in the Village’s aggregation program, they could choose to join Vectren’s Choice Program, which Talley explained during last week’s forum.

The program was launched in January and now includes nearly 1,800 residential customers and 750 business customers, she said.

Both Talley and Sloan said that the main issue with natural gas deregulation is the terms and conditions of the contract customers agree to, including the length of the agreement. “Gas is gas,” Talley said.

During a presentation on natural gas aggregation he gave to Council last December, Sloan said that customers in other Ohio communities that have become gas aggregators have typically saved about 5 to 10 percent on the gas bills.

—Robert Mihalek

More on this issue:

More information on natural gas aggregation and deregulation is available from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, or 1-800-686-7826, or from the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, or 1-877-742-5622.

Local Issue 4 ballot language

The following is the language that will appear on the May 6 ballot:

“Shall the Village of Yellow Springs have the authority to aggregate the retail natural gas loads located in the Village, and for that purpose, enter into service agreements to facilitate for those loads the sale and purchase of natural gas, such aggregation to occur automatically except where any person elects to opt out, all in accordance with Section 4929.26 of the Ohio Revised Code and Ordinance 2003-01 adapted by the Village council?”

Residents should answer yes or no.