WRITTEN BY ALEX DAVIS Wednesday, October 16, 2013 12:17 pm
MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — For months, Committeeman Tim Donohue touted the benefits of residents getting involved in an energy program that could save them thousands of dollars on their utility bills.
Now, he is having second thoughts.
Since last year, township officials have been exploring combining residents’ energy accounts to snag a better rate than what is offered by Atlantic City Electric. Officials had said the concept had the potential to save thousands of dollars for residents.
But several residents have slammed the concept at Township Committee meetings. Under state law, residents have to opt out of the program rather than specifically act to join it.
In 2012, however, he had said that the money saved from the energy savings would filter back into the local economy, but that he understood why people would be hesitant with government involvement.
“As a proponent of smaller, less intrusive government, I have wrestled from the very beginning with the issue of folks being forced into this arrangement and then having to opt out,” Donohue said this week. “This concern was counterbalanced by the fact that this energy aggregation would potential save our residents 10-12 percent on their electrical bills.”
Donohue was swayed to get out of the program after uncertainty arose with some of the details, contractual language, and residents’ concerns. Donohue did not immediately return a phone call for more information about those details.
Township Committee would have to vote to no longer pursue the program. Donohue said he supports a wait-and-see approach. Officials may participate in the program in the future, he said.
He wants Mayor Dan Lockwood and Committeewoman Susan DeLanzo to back withdrawing from the program. Lockwood and DeLanzo could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
“Sometimes you have to start the process to really find out if it makes sense and how folks feel about it,” Donohue said in a prepared statement. “I’ve spent a lot of time doing my homework on this issue. I have heard our residents’ concerns at several public meetings. It is clear that many folks do not approve of being forced into the program and then having to opt out, regardless of how simple the opt out might be. I share those concerns. Middle Township would have been one of the first towns in the state to join in a multi-town aggregation program. While I remain committed to bold and innovative approaches to cutting cost for our residents, at this time, I’m just not confident that all our concerns with this new initiative are being addressed.”
The state allows municipalities to combine residents’ electric accounts and seek the lowest rate through a bidding process.
“Without going into specifics, since other towns are still negotiating the final details of the arrangement, I’m simply not comfortable that all the pieces are in place at the state and regulatory level to get this off the ground seamlessly,” Donohue said. “As we moved down this path, we always have assured that if we didn’t like where this was going we had the ability to pull the plug. I’ll need to hear from the other members of committee before discussing any formal action going forward.”
Donohue said he reached his decision following due diligence, public meetings and community outreach.
“There are a lot of moving parts here, with this new type of energy purchasing, not only at the state and local level, put with various regulatory agencies, as well.” Donohue said. “I think this approach will one day work to help reduce energy costs, but frankly, I’ve reached the point where I don’t want to make our residents the guinea pigs for an untried and as yet unproven program.”
The township has had some luck with energy aggregation, however. Commercial Utilities Consultants of Sewell helped the township save thousands of dollars in utility costs.
“Getting everyone together to purchase energy and drive down costs makes sense,” Donohue said. “But I want the kinks worked out of the system before I recommend it to the people of Middle Township. If, at a later time, we feel the benefits are really there for our residents and all our concerns have been addressed, we may recommend revisiting the program in the future.”
Middle Township is involved in the residential energy aggregation program with Stone Harbor, Wildwood and Commercial Township in Cumberland County.
“I know that other towns will be affected by my position that Middle Township should withdraw,” Donohue said. “But I don’t work for those towns. My job is to do what I think is best for our residents.”
John Fish, an agent with Commercial Utilities Consultants, was not available for comment by presstime.