BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater Township and its residents may be in line for substantial energy savings, if a recent presentation by an outside party bears future fruit.
The Community Energy Aggregation (CEA) appeared before the Bridgewater Township Council recently to discuss itself as a viable alternative to long-time energy providers Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) and Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L), according to Alan Zakin, principal of Alan Zakin Associates.
Zakin said there are several energy aggregation programs already in place around the state of New Jersey, and added that, nowadays, when a consumer receives an energy bill, a third-party producer chosen by the state has supplied the energy, with the bill coming from an entity such as PSE&G or JCP&L. He said some energy producers are more legitimate than others, and that services in a particular municipality are sometimes determined by public auction.
Zakin, who described himself as a generalist instead of an expert, said that nowadays in America, energy savings go to the residents, as opposed to a township getting money back. He also said it is guaranteed that if the rate the CEA provides for the township ever exceeds the state’s rate, then the rate will revert to the state rate.
Also speaking for the CEA was Lisa Gibbs, who said that an opt-out is available for residents who do not wish to participate in the program.
“No one is enrolled immediately,” she said. “There is a 30-day opt-out period.”
Residents can also move in and out of the program as they wish, if another third-party energy producer becomes available in the area.
Gibbs said the program is not necessarily the lowest rate available, and that residents could take advantage of lower rates, with such information readily available. She also said the general program will be bound to the municipality, to the point where it could utilize the official township seal in correspondence, for legitimacy purposes.
Gibbs added that the program has an outreach component that makes use of meetings, videos and an information package, as mandated by the state administrative code, and which she provided to the council members. She said the program would also work with the municipality on areas such as the languages that would be utilized, in addition to English, in informing residents about the program.
Also speaking on behalf of the Community Energy Aggregation was Long Hill Deputy Mayor Guy Paserchia, from Morris County, part of one of five energy cooperatives already in operation in the state.
“I didn’t think much of it at first,” said Paserchia, who added that he later found the CEA to be a “no-brainer,” as there was already a state co-operative.
He added he was told his town could save money, or at least break even, with the state co-op gaining traction in Morris County.
Paserchia said that on introduction, an ordinance to accept the energy aggregation program in Long Hill passed by a 3-2 margin. On its second reading and public hearing, it was ratified by a 5-0 count. The program is now in its third year, and he said it has saved residents over $800 on their energy bills.
Paserchia said his typical energy bill comes out to around $200.
Bridgewater council president Matthew Moench said that Bridgewater’s energy provision is currently split between PSE&G and JCP&L. Paserchia replied there were a number of ways to opt out, and said his only concern now, after both understanding and using the program, is how to have people in his town opt in.
Moench asked whether, if Bridgewater pursued the program, the rate for residents would be better or lower than the one provided by the current power companies.
Gibbs said yes, as the state code wouldn’t allow for a higher rate.
“The ultimate decision is the council’s,” said Gibbs.
Zakin said that utilizing the congregation’s expertise, the township would know when to hold energy auctions and induce savings. Gibbs added that officials would have to convene about establishing a default rate with energy suppliers, or else the rate would go back to the state default rate.
Gibbs said that, initially, a postcard would be mailed to resident homes containing opt-out options, including a permanent opt-out box that could be checked off if the resident simply did not wish to participate. If residents did not receive or perhaps missed the postcard in the mail, they could attend an outreach meeting to opt-out, or simply contact the CEA by phone or e-mail.
The aggregation would also provide the township with video and other materials that could be posted on the municipal website.
Zakin called it “comparison shopping,” and said the aggregation would also provide staff at the municipal headquarters with information to take calls from residents, or speak with them about the CEA.
Council vice president Howard Norgalis reiterated that there would be no monetary benefit to the township itself, but asked if costs for mailings and related materials would be the responsibility of the CEA.
Gibbs said yes, and added that part of the state code was that the municipality itself could not prosper. She said the mailings would actually be paid for by the winning supplier, along with potentially some legal bills, after the township attorney looked over the program materials.
Moench said the council would take a closer look at the proposal, and asked other council members to send him e-mails to discuss the situation. He also asked what Bridgewater should do if it decided it wanted to participate, and Zakin said the process would take four to five months if the township decided to go ahead.
At least one member of the public, who previously worked in the energy business, wasn’t optimistic about the CEA, and felt that energy bills would be higher per kilowatt hour. He also said that once the township gave up its utility, the old providers didn’t necessarily have to perform equipment repairs, and also said that opting out of the program wouldn’t be a simple endeavor.
More information about the program is available online at njgea.com or goodenergy.com.