The nature of the program may change next year.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- People living in unincorporated areas of Trumbull County will supposedly have the chance to slash natural-gas bills by signing onto a plan promoted by Trumbull County commissioners.
On Wednesday, commissioners voted to enroll in the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council, a buying group for natural gas made up of 95 cities, townships and counties.
Under the agreement, township residents will have the opportunity to buy gas at a price negotiated by NOPEC -- a price that officials say is better than what consumers can find on their own.
The government buying group is offering residents natural gas for $5.94 per thousand cubic feet on a one-year contract, said Dan DiLiberto, the mayor of Eastlake and president of NOPEC.
The price of gas through East Ohio Gas is now $6.34, though it had been $2 higher earlier in the year, he said.
East Ohio's price dropped earlier this month, a few days after NOPEC announced the terms it had negotiated for gas from Shell Energy, he said.
"We are already saving people money," DiLiberto said.
Based on last year's prices, the average residential customer would save $200 a year by switching to the government-sponsored plan, he said.
Shell Energy will actually provide the gas and will solicit residents through the mail to sign up for the program.
People will remain with their current natural gas provider unless they ask to be switched , said Michael O'Brien, a county commissioner. "It is just more choice," he said.
More than 450,000 people live in NOPEC-member communities, but officials expect only a small percentage will actually make the effort to switch to its plan.
This could change.
DiLiberto said he expects that by next winter, NOPEC will switch to an "opt-out" plan, which will automatically switch consumers who do not request otherwise.
With greater consumer participation, NOPEC would have more bargaining leverage with gas companies.
Communities must pass a ballot issue before they can join an opt-out group. DiLiberto said he hopes Trumbull communities would put the issue on the ballot in May.
"I haven't talked to the other commissioners, but, myself, I'd like to put it on the ballot," O'Brien said.
He said that while commissioners made the move on behalf of the county's unincorporated areas, he hopes cities and villages in the county also will consider joining.