By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank officials are considering passage of a law that would automatically turn Jersey Central Power & Light customers in the borough into customers of another electricity provider unless they opt out.
Stacia Scaduto of Concord Energy Services and Commercial Utility Consultants, which runs a program of electricity aggregation for New Jersey residents, made a pitch to the council last Wednesday for an ordinance that she said would result in lower electricity bills.
Addressing the council at its monthly workshop session, Scaduto said her company participates in the Government Energy Aggregation program run by the state Board of Public Utilities. The 16-year-old program permits counties and municipalities to obtain lower electricity or natural gas rates for their residents and commercial users through auctions, in which suppliers compete for the business.
Red Bank electricity customers would get better rates than those set for JCP&L and other suppliers, Scaduto said.
“In order for us to move forward, the rate actually has to be lower than the JCP&L rate,” Scaduto said.
In addition, the GEA program offers consumer protections, such as budget billing and steady-payment plans, that may not be available from other energy brokers, she said.
“Nothing changes,” Scaduto said. JCP&L would continue to maintain power lines, respond to emergencies and issue monthly bills, she said.
Under state GEA law, if an authorizing ordinance is adopted, residents would have to opt out of the program in order to remain as JCP&L customers. They’d have to do so within 30 days of receiving a mailed notice, according to the GEA website. Scaduto said her firm sends out prepaid postcards customers can return, and has a call center where “the average time to opt out is 26 seconds.”
Those who go with the switchover could opt out on 30 days notice at any time, according to additional information provided by the state. Scaduto said there are no opt-out fees or penalties.
Customers sometimes “come and go,” opting out initially out of skepticism but opting back in when they see others actually saving money, she said.
Those already getting their power from a third-party supplier would not be affected.
“This is long in coming,” said Mayor Pasquale Menna. “We should have done this years ago, but we’re doing it now.”
Menna, a municipal lawyer, said he works with two towns that have been in the program for about two years and “there’ve been no problems with the users. It’s been favorably received. But there was a very extensive education process.”
Among municipal clients on its website, CUC lists Keyport.
Borough Business Administrator Ziad Shehady said the borough would hold multiple presentations multilingual presentations to get the word out. Scaduto said the program offered “an option, and ultimately, that’s all it is,” she said.
The 2003 law was enacted in part to enable customers to align with third-party suppliers that offer higher renewable energy content, according to the GEA website, a point on which Councilwoman Kate Triggiano, former chairwoman of the borough Environmental Commission who now serves as its council liaison, pressed Scaduto for information.
The current standard under state law is 22 percent renewable sourcing, Scaduto said. Auctions can be set up to generate a higher percentage of renewable sourcing if a town desires, but she cautioned that “although the renewables have come a long way, they’re still not less expensive” than conventionally generated power. Local consumers could be offered pricing based on differing amounts of renewable power if the borough requests, she said.
The council, which does not take formal action at workshop meetings, appeared to be in agreement to move forward with the program.
To make it happen, the council would have to introduce an ordinance, after which Scaduto’s company would hold an auction among electricity suppliers, and then advertise the program, with comparative rates, to borough customers.
“Our outreach program is pretty robust, because we want folks to understand that this isn’t something they can just go online and get on their own,” she told the council.
With commodity prices always in flux, if the auction doesn’t yield sufficient savings, “we don’t do anything,” Scaduto said. “We don’t move forward until we hit the target we’re looking for.”
Her brokerage gets paid by the supplier, and only if the deal goes through, she said.
The proposed ordinance is on the agenda for the council’s regular semimonthly meeting Wednesday night.