CUYAHOGA FALLS — The city is considering joining a Council of Governments organization that will help the municipality set up a natural gas aggregation program.

City Council's public affairs committee on Dec. 4 reviewed three pieces of legislation that will allow the city to join the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council, enter into a natural gas aggregation agreement with that organization and adopt an operation plan for the program.

Brenda Fargo, member development director for NOPEC, said her organization is a group of governments that works together “to provide competitive prices for gas and electric aggregation.”

She said NOPEC brings together more than 200 communities in a large buying group and helps these locations set up their natural gas aggregation program. NOPEC is offering Cuyahoga Falls a chance to join a two-year, opt-out natural gas aggregation program starting in April 2018. Fargo said NOPEC is three years into a six-year contract with NextEra Energy Services as the gas supplier in the program. She noted there is no cost for a community to join NOPEC, and there is no charge to leave the organization as long as the departure occurs during a specified period of time.

Fargo clarified that the city would be able to exit the program at the end of the two-year contract period at no cost. If the city wanted to leave the program before the two years had elapsed, Fargo said the city would have to pay a fee.

Currently the city acts as its own “agent” to find the best natural gas price in its own program, said Fargo. Teresa Hazlett, deputy service director for the city of Cuyahoga Falls, said the city has partnered with AMP-Ohio for about the last decade on its opt-out program. IGS is the city's current natural gas supplier through March 2018 and customers in that program are paying $3.46 per mcf (1,000 cubic feet of natural gas), according to Hazlett. She noted officials hope to offer a lower price through the NOPEC program.

If Council agrees to have the city enter the NOPEC program, all eligible natural gas customers in the city will receive information in the mail about the program in late January 2018, according to Fargo. The information released in January will include the price established for the program. Eligible customers are automatically enrolled into the program, and Fargo noted if they do not want to be in the program, they have 21 days after receiving the mailed information to opt out of the program. Eligible customers are ones who are currently in the city’s program or the Standard Choice Offer program or who moved to the city after the latest aggregation program was implemented, said Fargo.

Fargo told Council that an individual consumer would be able to leave the program at any time during the two-year deal without paying an early termination fee.

“NOPEC is an educational organization,” said Fargo. “We want folks to be educated shoppers. If they can go out and get a better deal on their own, they need to go do that…There are lots of people that either don't understand it or don't want to be bothered with it. That's the folks that the aggregation program really serves.”

Chuck Keiper, executive director of NOPEC, said his group serves communities in 14 counties and approximately 350,000 natural gas customers.

He said NOPEC is a Council of Governments, which means Cuyahoga Falls would receive a seat on the organization’s general assembly.

The general assembly determines how the organization governs itself and votes annually on questions related to governing. The general assembly also votes on NOPEC’s budget, as well as who represents the communities on NOPEC’s Board of Directors.

Keiper said NOPEC has three main goals: to offer a natural gas price that is in the bottom three to five percent of retail offers; provide ancillary benefits to the groups they represent; and serve as a “pro-consumer” public voice on utility issues.

“We work for you,” said Keiper at the meeting. He noted nearly everyone who works at NOPEC has previously served as a public servant in some type of capacity.