Warren County supervisors were pitched this week by a consortium that claims it can save county residents hundreds of dollars on their electric and natural gas bills if municipalities band together.
Municipal Electric & Gas Alliance, or MEGA, has been in existence since 1998 and has more than 275 customers in New York.
It recently signed up its first client in the Capital Region, the city of Saratoga Springs, but its local project director says it needs a few more municipal clients to get the critical mass of customers it needs to negotiate deals to cut rates for residents.
The organization is a “community choice aggregator,” an alternative to the investor-owned utilities that provide service in the region such as National Grid and NYSEG. MEGA is considered a not-for-profit local development corporation, and cannot partner with counties, but can with towns, villages and cities.
Residents whose municipalities sign on with a community choice aggregator like MEGA get their electricity and gas service through the company, unless they opt out for another provider. The town or village board or city council would decide whether to contract with the aggregator.
Small businesses are included, but larger businesses would have to opt in on their own.
MEGA’s project leader, Louise Gava, met with supervisors from around Warren County on Tuesday, hoping to get them to consider the consortium for their communities. She said the group believes it needs municipalities with at least 60,000 customers to have the buying power needed to negotiate rates with savings.
Entering into the partnership could save the average utility user about $100 annually, Gava said.
It also will get residents off the radar of the third-party “energy services companies” that sell door-to-door or over the phone and internet as alternatives to local utilities.
“There are a lot of bad actors out on the marketplace,” Gava said.
Queensbury Town Board members met with MEGA representatives in 2016, and Supervisor John Strough said the program “is a good concept.” But at that point, no other municipalities had signed on, so the town was hesitant to be the first, Strough said.
Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino said he would like to see an operation that does not charge customers for delivery when they have not used electricity. Seasonal residents still get electric bills for their homes that charge for delivery, even when there has been no electricity delivered, he pointed out.
No towns signed on this week, but Gava distributed information for supervisors to take back to their town boards.
Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson said his town used a similar program known as Municipal Energy Program in recent years, but went back to National Grid after two years.
He said making a switch is a hard decision when the change is for an entire town.
“I’m going to look into it,” he said. “I do have some questions about it, whether it’s advantageous. It can be a gamble.”