The process to save Rochester residents money on their electric bills through a community electricity aggregation program approved at the May 20 Town Meeting is moving forward, and residents should expect to see results come January 2021.
John O’Rourke of Good Energy updated the Board of Selectmen on June 3 on what is to come and when to expect lower prices for electricity, including renewable energy.
Through the Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District (SRPEDD), of which Rochester is a member, all but one of the 20 eligible municipalities had joined the aggregation program that allows a consultant to seek bids from competing energy providers in order to offer cities and towns the lowest rate possible for electricity. Rochester was that one remaining town.
“Since the start of the aggregation … there are savings,” O’Rourke said. Only once was Eversource’s rate slightly lower than the aggregation’s lowest bid, he said, “But since then, in every other [bid], there’s been savings for those residents, so all in all it’s been a very successful organization.”
The SRPEDD community aggregation was started in January 2016 and was renewed again in 2018. The next renewal is not until January 2021, however, so O’Rourke suggested Rochester begin its membership in the aggregation in the spring of 2020 on a one-year term at first, and then join the aggregation during its renewal in 2021.
“The best start for Rochester would be to have a program that’s coterminous with the SRPEDD group,” said O’Rourke. “It’ll be just a simple plan to bridge that gap for you … and then in 2021 you join together.”
The next step in this process is for the Board of Selectmen to approve Good Energy’s savings agreement, which will first be fleshed out by town counsel, signed by the selectmen, and then approved by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the Department of Public Utilities.
“We do all the work; you make the decisions,” said O’Rourke. Rochester would be allowed to make adjustments to the agreement, he added.
This part of the process takes from eight to 11 months to complete, O’Rourke told the board, “So, essentially, this is not a fast process at all, but it’s a steady process.”
Good Energy then will start a public outreach campaign to inform residents about the aggregation program, its benefits, and what residents would be required to do.
The community electricity aggregation program is an opt-out program, which means residents will automatically be enrolled into the program unless they choose to disenroll. There will be a 30-day disenrollment period once they receive the letter from Good Energy in the mail, but residents can drop out of the program at any time for any reason with no penalties or fees.
O’Rourke said residents will see no changes in their bill, except for the name of the electricity provider, and bills would still be issued by Eversource. Eversource is still responsible for power line maintenance and power outages, and residents should experience no interruptions at all once the program begins.
Residents also have the option to select electricity from renewable energy sources on an individual basis, anywhere from partially renewable to 100 percent renewable sources, if they so choose.
O’Rourke will put together the plan and send to the board next week.
Also during the meeting, as a result of numerous questions at Town Meeting regarding veterans’ benefits, Veterans Services Clerk Jo-Ann O’Malley gave a brief overview of her office and the services it provides under the leadership of Veterans Agent Barry Denham.
The office serves all three of the Tri-Towns, she said, and the office is open Tuesday -Thursday 8:00 am – 4:00 pm. She said they assist veterans who qualify for certain state aid, which is calculated based on income. Veterans who receive benefits fall below the 200 percent federal poverty level, and benefits include heating assistance, medical insurance and cost assistance, and help filling out forms.
Municipalities have a budget line item for veterans’ benefits, and 75 percent of what is spent is reimbursed from the state. Of the Rochester line item, only Rochester vets are provided for, O’Malley clarified in response to questions some residents had during Town Meeting.
“If anyone knows a vet who is in need,” said O’Malley – perhaps a vet trying to live in their own home, but struggling to afford home insurance or their social security benefits simply aren’t enough to sustain them, “We often can point folks in the right direction.”
“It’s my honor every day to serve the veterans of my hometown, Rochester, and of Marion and Mattapoisett.
In other matters, the board considered requests from town departments seeking some of the funding from SEMASS’s annual $10,000 monetary gift to the Town and awarded the money as follows: $2,000 to the Fire Department for SCBA masks; $3,000 to the Parks Department for an 18’ X 20’ shelter; $1,000 to the Facility and Park Department for speed bumps; and $4,000 to the Rochester Country Fair.
Selectman Greenwood “Woody” Hartley asked Kelly Morgado of the Rochester Country Fair Board of Directors to find a solution to what Hartley sees as a problem – the scouts’ repeated requests for donations upon entry to the country fairgrounds during the fair.
Hartley said he often attends the fair three times, but each time the Scouts, upon entry, “hang the bucket” under the window of his vehicle. If he gives the scouts $5 during one visit, one donation should be enough, he said. He suggested perhaps the scouts tie a flag to the antenna of vehicles who already gave a donation so they wouldn’t again hang the bucket under their car window.
“It’s their largest fundraiser that they do for the entire year,” said Morgado. “I get what you’re saying, she said, but she suggested Hartley bring it up to the scouts himself because the scouts assist the RCF Committee throughout the event.
“We rely on them heavily,” said Morgado, “so it’s a great working relationship we have with them.”
“It’s their big fundraiser for camp,” said Selectmen Chairman Paul Ciaburri.
In other matters, Hartley suggested the Town consider changing its scheduling of the annual election, saving the date for the Wednesday after Town Meeting as Marion and Mattapoisett do.
“It would simplify things,” said Ciaburri. “I think it’s a good idea and I think we should look into it.”
The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for June 17 at 6:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
Rochester Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry