Oak Harbor: Gas aggregation shelved by mayor, council

Staff Writer

Changes in the natural gas market have convinced members of Oak Harbor Village Council and the administration to shelve the village gas aggregation program.
Mayor Quinton Babcock said he and council have decided to defer action on the program that had looked promising for lowering monthly utility bills of residents.
“A deal doesn’t make sense right now, but we are going to continue to monitor our options so we can save community members money when it does make sense,” the mayor said. “Our residents put their faith in us, and we want them to get solid savings.”
An aggregation program would allow the village to bargain as a unit to secure a “bulk discount” and better fuel pricing for all village residents compared to a single customer,
In November, residents in the village voted to approve a measure that authorizes the village to contract for natural gas service on their behalf, but the village council has elected to postpone entering a contract due to lackluster options in the market.
Earlier this year, Columbia Gas Transmission was permitted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to implement an additional fee to customers, which has had a significant effect on the natural gas marketplace and prevented bargaining units from achieving as great of savings as they had historically.
Mayor Babcock said when the village administration and council first researched the program, it expected customers to see significant savings as group buyers versus individual buyers. The current, reduced savings do not justify making the choice for residents.
“We wanted to take this opportunity to update the residents,” said councilmember Barry Hall. “This is a disappointment, but council is always looking for ways to better serve its residents.”
The aggregation program would have allowed residents to opt out at any time.
If implemented in the future, the program would not require residents to deal with a new company. While switching to a gas supplier negotiated by the village, residents would still use Columbia Gas' infrastructure. Billing, service, and meter reading would all operate through Columbia Gas, and the only noticeable difference for the resident would include a one-line change on monthly utility bills, noting the gas supplier and lower price.
“We knew the numbers could change and, fortunately, there were no downsides to voting in the program,” said Babcock. “Sometimes, the best thing you can do when making a deal is walk away from the table for a bit.”


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