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Electric Customers In 10 Berkshire Towns Seeing Group Benefits
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
05:38PM / Friday, October 10, 2014
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Residents in 10 towns now have the option of purchasing their power at a lower rate through an electrical aggregation agreement, but they will still be customers of National Grid or WMECo.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Residents in 10 Berkshire towns now have the benefit of obtaining a lower electric rate through a group-purchasing agreement.
 
Customers of National Grid and Western Massachusetts Electric Co. in Clarksburg, Florida, Dalton, Lenox, New Marlborough, North Adams, Sheffield, Tyringham, Williamstown and West Stockbridge will automatically be given a 12.191 per kilowatt hour rate on their electric bills.
 
The towns joined together this year for the group purchasing option that runs from November to November.
 
"Earlier this summer they got an order from the Department of Public Utilities to go to the marketplace," said Mark Cappadona, a principal with Colonial Power Group, which headed the process.
 
On Sept. 17, administrators from those towns opted to choose Hampshire Power as their energy supplier. For National Grid customers, beginning Nov. 1 they will automatically get the 12.191 rate, which is more than 4 cents less what National Grid is approved to charge. National Grid was approved of a rate of 16.273 for power, which is about a third more than last year.
 
Customers with National Grid received a letter this month notifying residents they could opt out of the group-purchasing program and stay with the more expensive National Grid rates.
 
"If you do not opt out, you automatically get Hampshire Power," Cappadona said, but that doesn't mean residents are locked into the rate for the entire year. "Everybody obtains the right to opt out at any time."
 
Colonial Power sent mailings out customers comparing the rates. WMECo customers will receive the same information next month after the utility receives its rate hike approval.
 
"This doesn't require the consumer to do anything," Cappadona said.
 
North Adams Administrative Officer Michael Canales said the supplier charge is just one of three components of the utility bill: distribution and state and federal taxes are separate. The utilities will continue to charge for energy distribution along their lines and the supplier rate will be on top of that.
 
"The utilities go in every six months and bid. Effective, Nov. 1 is their new rate," he said. "In another six months it will come down, but how far ... who knows?"
 
How much a customer saves is dependent on how much they use, Canales said, but on average, the highest use of electricity is during the winter months.
 
National Grid or WMECo will still handle all of the billing and are still the ones to call for customer service. But, for those in the program, a line of the bill will show the the aggregation rate for the different energy supplier. Customers pay their bills normally and WMECo and National Grid pay Hampshire Power its share.
 
This is the first year the 10 municipalities have done the program. Led by Canales, the towns gathered under the same request for proposals for energy. Each of them gained town meeting or City Council support over the past year to join the RFP, which was approved in July.

The Hampshire Power bid was accepted in a joint meeting of town administrators and managers in Dalton in September.

"These programs are all about choices," Cappadona said.
 
While only 10 towns were involved in this contract, Cappadona says others can join in the future. He said the town of Adams is expected to start the process. For those towns interested, a consultant can talk them through the process.
 
Canales said the city has fielded a few questions from residents about the program.
 
"We've had people calling, some wanting them to know if it's real," he said. "And definitely some people wanting to know if it's a scam."
 
Residents in Lanesborough will see similar benefits, though it is not part of the Hampshire Power contract. Lanesborough has been running its own aggregation program for many years and the Selectmen last week adopted a two-year contract for power.
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