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County towns eye lower power prices through collective

Thirty-six western Massachusetts communities — including Montague and 11 more in Franklin County — are awaiting to hear if the state government will allow them to by electricity as a group, presumably for a savings.

Several dozen town officials, area legislators and others testified last week in Northampton before the state Department of Public Utilities on petitions to become part the Hampshire Council of Governments’ proposed aggregation of potentially 150,000 customers in Hampshire, Franklin, Berkshire Hampden and Worcester counties. The proposed group includes Charlemont, Conway, Deerfield, Gill, Heath, Leverett, Montague, Northfield, Rowe, Warwick, Wendell and Whately.

“By combining purchasing power, the plans will go a long way to helping central and western Massachusetts overcome one of the prime barriers to economic growth and will enable ordinary homeowners to retain more of their hard earned money,” said Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, in written testimony supporting the aggregation on behalf of a dozen communities participating.

“Lower costs will enhance economic development efforts by attracting businesses to our communities,” wrote Rosenberg and eight other legislators including Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, plus all three representatives of Franklin County towns.

Hampshire County has been supplying Montague and other towns for years with electricity for their municipal buildings.

In her testimony, Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, told the DPU that she’s confident the Hampshire COG has demonstrated it has “the capacity to administer and the experience to manage this important next step in energy aggregation ... (with) a record of success, proving their ability to offer competitive rates that have generated savings for ratepayers in more than 100 towns, school districts, nonprofits and businesses across five counties.”

Montague Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio who was unable to attend due to illness, called the aggregation “a good idea,” saying, “aggregations tend to get better deals. There’s potentially a lower cost, and people want to have a choice.”

He said Hampshire Power has been the Montague town government electricity provider for years and has “sometimes” delivered on lower electricity prices.

Heath Town Coordinator Kara Leistyna, who did attend the hearing, said she and her selectboard are “cautious” but interested in looking into offering its residents a choice of what could be lower electricity rates.

Once the DPU rules on the petitions for aggregation, the Hampshire COG will begin mailings to residents of the communities, the largest of which is Northampton, and then seek bids from power wholesalers, said Ann-Renee Larouche, the COG’s energy specialist.

The program includes all residents and business customers with an option for them to opt out at the outset or at any point, she said. Prospective customers will receive an opt-out notice quoting the price of the electricity, with a comparison to the standard utility company price.

“We can buy in bulk for better pricing,” said Larouche, “and there’s also local control,” which includes options for electricity generated by renewable energy sources.

Several more towns have included articles on their spring town meeting warrants to consider joining the aggregation, she said, and additional communities can join at some point in the future.

On the web: http://bit.ly/1f7VTNi

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269

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