June 27, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Shopping for gas deals sought through ballot issue

MEDINA — Medina County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to put gas aggregation for the townships on the May ballot.

The proposal will ask voters in the county’s 17 townships to give commissioners the authority to shop for the best rates. The result could be savings on residents’ gas bills.

The program will make gas aggregation the primary source of natural gas service in the townships and residents will not have to do anything to be included.

Individuals who do not want to be included may opt out at no cost and seek their own gas provider.

“That makes it an easier decision,” Lafayette Township Trustee Lynda Bowers said. “There’s no harm, no foul. If you don’t get a better deal, you can go somewhere else on your own.”

Bowers said officials in her township won’t necessarily support the aggregate itself until they have more information, but they approve of residents’ right to vote on it.

“We support the public’s right to choose whether or not they want to aggregate,” she said. “We’re not telling our residents we think this is a good deal or a bad deal.

“It does make sense that if you buy in larger numbers, you would get a lower price.”

It’s not the first time the commissioners tried to get a gas aggregation issue to voters. They proposed putting it on last November’s ballot, but scrapped the idea after the townships showed little interest.

If the voters approve, the county could join the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council, a nonprofit group representing 134 communities in Northeast Ohio.

Formed in 2000, NOPEC uses bulk buying to bring discounted electricity and natural gas to residents and businesses in its member communities.

“I think NOPEC coming in with much more solid information and the local buying program helped,” Commissioner Stephen D. Hambley said. “I also think it took some time for the township officials to evaluate the information.”

But Hambley said NOPEC is just one option available to officials. He said commissioners will form a task force with township officials to try to find the best provider and best price before voters go to the polls in May.

“Hopefully we’ll have an idea of who is going to be providing service and what the terms are before people start casting votes,” he said. “We’d rather that than just asking them to give us that authority.”

NOPEC spokesman Chuck Keiper said his group provided a three-month rate not to exceed $4.74 per 1,000 cubic feet for Columbia Gas customers and a rate of $0.582 per 100 cubic feet for Dominion East Ohio customers.

“It’s tough to predict the price for next fall in the middle of the coldest winter in 40 years,” Keiper said.

Still, he said, NOPEC has plans to try to keep rates low.

“What we did was try to take some of the mystery out of gas,” Keiper said. “We included the details of our plan over the next five to six years to buy an increasing amount of Ohio-based gas.

“Ohio shale gas provides many advantages because it pipes for a shorter distance, there are fewer tariffs, and it tends to be cheaper and it’s better for the Ohio economy.”

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.