© The Stoneham Independent

STONEHAM, MA - State energy officials will hold a public hearing next week to consider the Town of Stoneham's petition to procure a cheaper or alternative electricity supply on behalf of all local residents and businesses.

The state Department of Public Utilities (DPU) was earlier this winter asked to grant an expedited approval to the town's municipal aggregation plan, an initiative under which a third-party consultant will negotiate directly with alternative power providers in an attempt to find a cheaper or more environmentally-friendly energy source.

The public hearing, scheduled for May 9 at 2 p.m. in DPU's headquarters by South Station in Boston, will be the second held on the Stoneham proposal.

The first round of public discourse, held on March 28, was deemed insufficient due to a paperwork filing error. Specifically, though town officials and its consultants inserted legal notices in newspapers about the DPU proceedings, the hearing notice was not posted as required with Town Clerk Maria Sagarino's office or on the town's website.

Next week's hearing marks one of the last regulatory approvals needed to authorize town leaders' nearly three-year-long push to pursue the new energy arrangement, which proponents say will result in noticeable reductions to Eversource customers' monthly electricity bills.

Under the proposed aggregation plan, a document that spans more than 100-pages in length, New York based Good Energy will solicit at least three different bids on two types of electricity packages, including:

• A "Stoneham Basic" Option, in which the primary goal of the new supply agreement would be to reduce current prices being paid by Stoneham electricity customers;

• and a "Stoneham Premium 100% Local Green" Option, which, according to the proposal, is geared towards "customers that want more green electricity generated from renewable energy resources."

Late last fall, when the Board of Selectmen readied to hold its own public hearing on the plan, Good Energy representative John O'Rourke explained Eversource was at that time charging 13.157 cents per kilowatt hour for its power supply, while National Grid, another major utility company, had set the rate at 12.673 cents per kilowatt hour.

By contrast, during a competitive bid process just finished by Good Energy on behalf of a group of South Shore clients, a low bid of 10.13 cents per hour was submitted to the firm.

Once the aggregate plan is approved by the state, the consultant, which will receive a sales commission based off of a percentage of the savings generated from any new arrangements with suppliers, will present a list of the top offers to town officials, who can then either accept those offers or opt to stay with the current provider.

Should town officials agree to engage with alternate energy providers, residents would be notified of the decision through a series of public meetings and advertisements.

Consumers also retain the right to stay with their current energy generator by opting out of any contract secured by the town.

Town Meeting voters first authorized local officials to pursue the alternative energy arrangement back in 2015, when citizens sanctioned a general study of the concept, but instructed the Board of Selectmen to report back to the assembly with its findings.

Under a state law passed in 1997, municipalities are empowered to secure a cheaper or alternative electricity supply on behalf of residents and businesses.

With the law enacted at around the same time public utilities were deregulated in the state, the arrangement does not alter or disrupt services from utility distributors like Eversource or National Grid, which own the infrastructure used to deliver electricity to customers.

Instead, firms like Good Energy work with companies that generate power and negotiate a deal to provide energy to those distributors’ grids. Proponents of procuring an aggregated energy supply contend consumers will not be hurt financially through higher utility bills, because public utilities like Eversource are largely forbidden from generating energy and also delivering it to customers.

No real mention was made in Stoneham about the electricity purchase arrangement until the winter of 2017, when Town Administrator Thomas Younger went to execute a contract with Good Energy, the same firm that first approached local officials two years earlier.

At the time, Younger wanted to officially engage the company to solicit on the town's behalf proposals from energy producers across the country, but he learned Town Meeting's 2015 authorization did not consent to the creation of an official aggregation plan.

Last spring, the annual assembly fixed that oversight and gave that permission to the town administrator.

As Stoneham has advanced closer to the aggregate energy approval finish line, Town Administrator Thomas Younger, who has engaged in a similar process in past management posts, has warned local residents to beware of potential fraudsters and con artists.

As Younger warned last December, no one from either Good Energy or the Town of Stoneham will ever ask residents or businesses to ink a contract with a competitive energy supplier by conducting door-to-door sales visits or via a personal phone call.

"If anyone comes to your door or is calling you, please contact Town Hall. We don't want people to be taken advantage of," advised the town administrator, who warned such devious sales pitches are extremely common in municipalities considering energy aggregation.

"When we've initiated this [part of the approval process] in other communities, we've found that marketers come in and try to identify themselves as with our program," O'Rourke also warned in December. "We don't ever go door-to-door, call people [over the phone directly], or mail anything [as part of our work]. The only thing that gets mailed [months from now] is a customer [agreement] that will come from the Town of Stoneham directly."

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