ROXBURY, NJ – Roxbury officials remain uninterested in joining other nearby towns in an “energy aggregation” program that would save residents money on their electric bills, a decision that might be based in part on a falsehood.
Mount Arlington, Mine Hill, Wharton and Rockaway Borough are among the local municipalities in the Morris Area Energy Cooperative (MAEC), a program that guarantees reduced electric bills for constituents. Under an energy aggregation plan, JCP&L would continue to deliver electricity and do the billing, but the power could come from a different electricity generation source.
Former Roxbury Councilman Dan Kline pushed for Roxbury’s inclusion in such an energy aggregation program in 2018 and 2019. But Kline, who was the council’s sole Democrat before losing re-election in November, met resistance and his idea never bore fruit.
The council raised a number of objections, the first being that all residents would automatically be included in the aggregation program, although they could opt-out if they desired. Even before Kline lost his bid for re-election in November, his Republican colleagues clearly signaled they weren’t moving forward with the program.
Kline asserted the council's real motivation for sidelining the idea was partisan politics. Mayor Bob DeFillippo said concern for residents, not politics, put the proposal on a back burner.
Nevertheless, the topic was raised again at the Jan. 7 council meeting by resident Robert Kluska, one of several people who regularly attend council meetings.
“I haven’t heard anything further about the investigation of generation supplier on our electric bills,” said Kluska. “Has that been tabled or deferred? Where do we stand on that?”
Unplugged for a 'Good Reason'
Roxbury Councilman Jim Rilee was the first to respond, conceding the proposal “got tabled” because Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) reduced its rates.
“It disappeared for a good reason, Bob,” added Roxbury Deputy Mayor Fred Hall. “We can’t exactly present something to the public that is higher in price than what they’re currently getting.”
Roxbury Township Manager John Shepherd backed-up Rilee and Hall, asserting his staff “created an analysis for one year” and determined that joining the co-op was of no benefit.
“The rates for summer-time from JCP&L were lower than the co-op rate,” Shepherd said. “In the wintertime, the co-op rate is lower than JCP&L. But we did an average usage for a consumer ... and at the end of the year, there would be no savings. It would probably cost a little bit more.”
However, in a recent interview, the man who manages the Morris Area Energy Cooperative, Wharton Administrator Jon Rheinhardt, disagreed with Shepherd’s analysis.
“The way the program is designed, you will never pay more than JCP&L,” said Rheinhardt, a Roxbury resident. He noted that Wharton is the lead municipality in the co-op.
Rheinhardt said the energy bills paid by residents in co-op towns will reflect the lowest rates available, whether they are from JCP&L or third-party providers. He agreed with Shepherd that JCP&L rates were lower in the summer than the rates available through Concord Energy Services, the company that supplies the co-op electricity as a commodity. But when that happened, the co-op members were charged the lower, JCP&L rate, according to Rheinhardt.
“In June, July, August and September they were inverted,” Rheinhardt said. “The program stopped then. It began in October when it was cheaper again.”
Shepherd - in an email - disputed that. "When the JCP&L rate dropped below the Morris Co-Op rate this past summer, I do not believe that the participants in the Co-Op received the lower rate," he said.
However, Mount Arlington Mayor Michael Stanzilis - after checking with Borough Administrator Carolyn Rinaldi - agreed with Rheinhardt's assertion: That a Co-op town's residents will never pay more than JCP&L's lowest rate.
Not First a Fan of the Opt-Out
Rheinhardt said he empathizes with the concerns expressed repeatedly by those on the Roxbury council about the fact that residents in co-op towns are automatically enrolled.
“I hated that,” he said. “Who are we to tell people what to do with energy? I was adamantly opposed to it.”
He said the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) insisted that energy aggregation co-ops be “opt-out” rather than “opt-in.” The BPU, which wrote the program, said ‘If you want to do it, it’s all-in but its active opt-out.”
After Wharton joined the cooperative, some residents opted out, Rheinhardt said. Most returned after realizing they were losing money, he noted.
“We had people comparing electric bills and they were like, ‘OK, I want to save money,’” so they opted back in, he said.
Roxbury Councilman Richard Zoschak, along with Kline and Roxbury Councilwoman Jaki Albrecht, served on a council sub-committee that studied energy aggregation and recommended Roxbury pursue it.
“I studied this quite a bit,” he said. “Everybody will save money if they go to this co-op. Some of these guys (with him on the council) can’t understand that. I’m for saving money anywhere we can.”
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