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Whately selectmen delay new power deal

WHATELY —Before members of the Whately Board of Selectmen sign their names to a contract that will make residents part of a 31-town electricity aggregation, it has some questions to be answered.

In October, the board agreed to join the municipal aggregation under Hampshire Power as long as the public was kept informed and given the option to not participate.

Hampshire Power is a not-for-profit organization developed by the Northampton-based Hampshire Council of Governments to provide bulk-buying power to towns. Its goal is to offer homeowners and businesses another option to buy electricity from a utility other than National Grid and Western Massachusetts Electric Co.

Yet, after receiving the draft contract this week, the same concerns that have bothered the board since hearing the council’s proposal in the summer persist.

“We are looking for clarification,” said Town Administrator Lynn Sibley.

The board’s main concern is whether residents will be penalized if they opt-out of the aggregation after the 180-day deadline as stipulated in the contract.

According to the contract, “any ratepayer choosing to opt-out within 180 days shall do so without penalty and shall be entitled to receive basic service as if he was originally enrolled therein.”

The board wonders what happens to a customer who wishes to discontinue service after the initial 180 days.

The opt-out rule of the program was an original sticking point for the board, which felt residents should not be automatically switched over from the default provider to Hampshire Power.

Hampshire Power’s Executive Director Todd Ford had reassured the board that residents can choose to opt-out of the aggregation and continue using WMECO. Ford stated that before the aggregation starts, residents will receive a postcard in the mail to opt out. After this initial period, residents still have the opportunity to return to the default service at any time by calling WMECO.

He explained the state requires that the program be opt-out.

The board also questions how often the council will inform residents and the town of the status of the aggregation. The board first agreed to join the program with the understanding that the council would distribute a newsletter to aggregation members.

The contract states, “The Hampshire Council shall prepare or cause to be prepared all informational and educational materials for the general public and for the media, subject to the approval of the (Board of Selectmen), including meeting with representatives from the media.”

Sibley questioned whether the informational materials will inevitably be voluntary and wondered how often the town would be informed of how the aggregation is doing.

To get answers, Sibley contacted the council this week. The board is now waiting for the council’s explanation.

If the Whately board does end up putting its pen to paper, it will join 31 towns across Franklin, Hampshire and Worcester counties in the aggregation. Whately was one of two towns, including Chesterfield, that had reservations and held off.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at::
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 268

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