SOUTH KINGSTOWN — By this time next year, South Kingstown residents could be consuming more renewable energy and paying less on their electricity bill.
Last fall, members of the sustainability committee pitched the idea of an energy aggregation program — meaning the town enters into competitive contracts on behalf of all residents to get the best possible electricity supply rates.
In the past, National Grid had been the only real option, according to sustainability committee member Hannah D. Morini, but new state legislation and a competitive market is making energy aggregation an attractive option for local municipalities.
“For the past decade or more, we’ve seen the competitive supply side of the market really come in and save large users of electricity a lot of money,” Morini said. “You don’t have to just sign up for what’s the default, what’s available to you by National Grid. You could actually go out and compete.”
Energy aggregation programs automatically enroll entire towns and cities, which helps to create the high volume needed for competitive rates, but residents do have the option to opt out of the program.
Since beginning to explore this option in earnest nearly a year ago with the blessing of the town council, the sustainability committee worked to create a request for proposal in the search of an energy aggregation consultant.
“The town is able, through it’s consultant, go out to bid and get competitive prices on behalf of its residents for the supply of electricity,” Morini explained to council members on Monday night.
Patrick Roche of Good Energy, who was accepted by the town council in May, will be that consultant. Over the past few months, Roche has met multiple times with the sustainability committee to discuss what program options will look like for residents. He’s also worked with Town Manager Robert Zarnetske to assemble that draft plan — which the council ultimately approved on Monday.
The plan must first be approved by the Public Utilities Commission before going out to bid for an electricity supplier contract, which will likely happen later this fall, according to Roche. Once the town starts receiving good bids, the program could be fully up and running early into the new year.
Other cities and towns in Rhode Island, including Providence, Central Falls, Barrington, and Portsmouth will also be going out to bid for electricity supplier contracts this year, according to Roche, which could help improve the rates the town receives.
Unlike National Grid, who’ll still be delivering the electricity and handling all maintenance, other electricity suppliers will provide rate stability, according to Roche. Rather than changing rates every six months, other suppliers can guarantee energy aggregates the same fixed rate for a year or more.
While there is potential that National Grid may have a lower rate during one six month period, the other energy suppliers will likely be able to provide lower rates overall throughout the length of a contract, according to Roche. At the moment, Roche said the markets are a good place to lock in rates and most homeowners, on average, are saving $50 to $60 per-year.
National Grid will also be handling all the billing. Currently most residents receive their supply and delivery through National Grid, but the energy aggregation program will only change the name of the supplier on their monthly bill. Everything will still be on one page, according to Morini, and community members don’t need to worry about tracking down a separate piece of paper or making any separate payments.
“Someone’s still going to get just a single bill, it’s just that the supplier name and cost is going to change, based on what the town is able to secure through competitive bidding,” she said, stressing how important it was to the sustainability committee to have a seamless transition.
National Grid will still handle maintenance, according to Roche, and residents who receive solar, net metering or any low-income discount rates won’t have to worry about these going away if they decide to stay in the program.
The program will also expand consumer choice and also provide opportunities for residents to opt for going above and beyond state minimums for percentages of renewable energy used.
The Standard Smart Energy Program, which residents will be automatically enrolled into, will provide some savings and is expected to increase renewable energy consumption by 10 percent.
Three optional products — Basic, Smart Energy Plus and Smart Energy Plus Plus — will allow residents the option of further customizing their renewable energy consumption.
The Basic Plan lets customers optimize savings and consume the state minimum percentage of renewable energy. For those who’d like to receive an even greater percentage of their energy from renewables, the Smart Energy Plus Plan will come with a modest price premium but is expected to increase their renewable energy consumption by 50 percent. The Smart Energy Plus Plus Plan will come at a higher price premium, according to Roche, but residents will be able to receive 100 percent of their energy from renewables.
Roche also noted that the vast majority of the renewable energy residents receive will be coming from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, but energy won’t be coming from anywhere outside of New England.
Good Energy has worked with dozens of municipalities in Massachusetts, and 13 of them have created very similar programs to South Kingstown.
For those who are thinking of maximizing their renewable energy consumption but are worried how much their costs might go up by, those who’ve opted for this option in Sudbury, Mass. are not paying egregious amounts. According to Roche, the homes in Sudbury are a bit larger than average, but monthly energy bills have only increased by around $25.
Residents can also choose to opt out at any time at no cost, or switch to a different product option.
Councilman Rory McEntee questioned why anyone might want to opt out of the program if it’s cheaper and better for the environment, but Roche pointed out that some residents might already have a different supplier — though they can choose to opt in.
“Some residents may feel very comfortable doing the work it takes to shop around in the competitive market, but you have to be really on top of it,” Roche said, pointing out that this often involves switching every six months or a year to another supplier.
Others might just want to stay with National Grid after being with them so long, or others might not feel comfortable with the town choosing their electricity supplier. On average, though, in the communities where Good Energy has already found good rates for residents, only 2 percent chose to opt out of the program.
Before the program starts, Good Energy will work alongside the town and the sustainability committee to launch an extensive, six week education campaign. Hopefully, all residents will hear about the program details though multiple various vehicles of information, including mailers, social media and a website.
Apart from other members of the sustainability committee, the only other public comment came from community member Greg Sweet, who questioned how easy it would be to opt out of the program.
Unlike cable companies that promise quick and easy switches, Roche said that there’s no making residents stay in the program. Their information will be sent back to National Grid, Roche said, and it might take one month before they’re back to their original supplier rolls, but it’s immediate.
Sustainability Committee Chair Angela R. Tuoni believes South Kingstown is the perfect candidate for this type of “forward-thinking and sustainability-focused” program, and the town will be among the first in the state to take advantage of this opportunity.
“I think that’s something to be proud of,” Tuoni said.
Sustainability Committee Secretary Jim Normann also shared his excitement for the project at Monday night’s public meeting, and thanked members of the council for being open to this option in the first place.
In other business, the council also unanimously approved sending a memorandum to the Secretary of State to have a $6.5 million bond question for capital improvements placed on the ballot in November.
If approved by the voters, these funds would go toward the Matunuck Sea Wall Project, improvements to the town’s radio communication towers and other projects.
Councilman Joe Viele said he was in favor of going out to bond in this case, because borrowing costs have begun to outweigh the cost of waiting on projects that are “shovel ready.”
“Fiscally, I like to hold the purse strings, but in this case I think we accelerate some projects and inturn save some money,” Viele said.