November 26, 2014

Medina
Mostly cloudy
30°F

Primary 2014: Who should bargain for gas prices?

On May 6, Medina County voters will decide if they want to give county commissioners the power to bargain for gas prices on their behalf.

Issue 5 asks voters to authorize commissioners to seek bids from natural gas providers for service at a fixed rate for residents and businesses in the county’s 17 townships.

Commissioners have said they could to achieve lower rates through bulk buying.

“The possibility exists that pricing will be lower because of the sheer number of residents that will be included, which we’re guessing is about 16,000 households,” county Administrator Chris Jakab said. “So that should provide us with the purchasing power to be able to lower the gas bill for these residents.”

County voters approved a similar plan for electrical service in 2010.

In February, Commissioner Stephen D. Hambley said officials wanted to have a provider in place before the May election, but exactly who will provide service remains in question.

Commissioners are working with Community Energy Advisors, a local firm to seek bids from groups like the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council.

NOPEC spokesman Chuck Keiper said in February that his group offered 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.

But Jakab said the county is exploring several plans with different pricing options. They’ll accept bids from providers up through Friday. He said officials will not know who the provider is or what the pricing plan will be for another two weeks after that.

“We’ll have to seriously review the proposals, because we don’t know how close in range they will be,” Jakab said.

If the measure passes, all Columbia and Dominion customers will be eligible for the program and will not have to do anything to qualify. Residents automatically would begin receiving service under the program provider once a deal is reached with a provider.

Some would not qualify for the program, including residents or businesses with an alternate competitive supplier, those outside the community limits of the qualifying areas, those enrolled in percentage-of-income payment plans, those delinquent in their gas payments, or those using more than 500,000-cubic-feet per year.

Residents also could opt out.

If the measure passes, all eligible residents and businesses will receive opt-out forms and will have 21 days to reply. Those residents can then shop for gas from a supplier of their choice. Anyone enrolled also could drop out at anytime with no penalty.

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