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|04-16-03: St. Marys voters to decide on gas program
|By TIMOTHY COX
The Daily Standard
ST. MARYS - City voters will decide in the May 6 election whether they
want the city and American Municipal Power of Ohio (AMP-Ohio) to launch an aggregation
program that would try to secure lower natural gas prices for local customers.
Gas aggregation was made legal in Ohio in 2001. A half dozen
communities passed ballot issues in November 2002 and 13 more communities, including St.
Marys, have aggregation issues on the ballot in May.
Only voters within the St. Marys city limits will be eligible to vote
and participate in the program. In cities where aggregation has already been approved, the
ballot issues passed with anywhere from 79 percent to 89 percent of voters supporting the
If approved by voters, officials at AMPO, a for-profit division of
AMP-Ohio formed specifically to pursue aggregation, would attempt to negotiate a natural
gas supply contract for city customers. The belief is that by pooling customers together,
the group can get a more competitive price.
"You may or may not save a lot of money. It remains to be
seen," said Bob Simmers, an AMPO official who presented information on aggregation to
a handful of St. Marys residents Tuesday.
Another informational session is scheduled for April 24 at 6 p.m. in
the basement of the city utilities office.
If voters give the go-ahead, city council members then will write an
operational plan for the program and seek Public Utilities Commission of Ohio
certification as a natural gas aggregator. Once that is done, AMPO will work toward a
contract proposal. Ideally, AMPO will bring the city two or three different contract
"Just because you pass the ballot issue doesn't mean council has
to proceed," Simmers said, noting that council would retain the right to reject any
or all offers.
If a contract is reached and approved by council, the opt-out time
period would begin. That means existing Dominion East Ohio gas customers would be
contacted to see if they want to be part of the aggregation program. Residents would have
to fill out a card and return it by mail if they do not want to participate.
"If you don't do anything, you will be assumed to be in the
program," Simmer said.
Supply contracts could be one or two years long and could offer fixed
or variable rates, Simmers said. Customers who join the program and then want out before
the contract expires would pay a $25 exit fee, fairly standard in the industry, Simmers
It likely would be September before a new supply contract could be put
in place, he said.
Customers who have already switched suppliers under Ohio's Energy
Choice program would not be automatically switched to the aggregate contract. Those
customers could participate by getting out of their current contracts, though. Also
ineligible are people who are not current with their Dominion payments and those who get
state assistance for their gas bills.
Additionally, only residential and small commercial customers would be
switched to the program if it is approved. Larger customers could join the program on
If the ballot issue passes, two public hearings would be held during
the planning phase of the program so that city residents become more familiar with how it
works, Simmers said.
Simmers said there are no drawbacks to supporting the issue. The
worst-case scenario is that officials would be unable to negotiate a favorable contract
and residents would stay with Dominion or the current suppliers, Simmers said.
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