staff writer

Pat McNamara’s job on Wednesday afternoon was to shine some light on the anticipated relationship between Fostoria and the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council.

McNamara, a relationship manager for NOPEC, conducted one of two public hearings required in the city by the Public Utilities Council of Ohio before a third reading to city council of legislation to join NOPEC’s electrical aggregation plan.

The third reading of two ordinances regarding the city connecting with NOPEC is expected at council’s Jan. 21 meeting, with a vote to follow.

On Wednesday, McNamara headed up an early-afternoon meeting with residents and fellow relationship manager Rob Barkley was on hand for an early-evening gathering.

The premise of purchasing electricity or gas aggregationally is to achieve cost savings for customers. Fostoria has been in NOPEC’s aggregational gas program since 2018, and city officials found its electrical plan to be most appealing among a number of companies they researched.

Voters in November approved the city’s search for an aggregational electricity plan. Fostoria now receives its electricity from American Electric Power.

“Since we’ve never had electric aggregation in this community, I’m excited to see the savings for the residents,” Safety Service Director Deb Hellman said.

NOPEC, which operates as a non-profit, has the aim of passing on savings to the customers through its work with Nextera Energy.

“We’re like Costco or Sam’s Club, where we buy in bulk,” McNamara said in an interview prior to Wednesday’s first hearing. “And we have over 235 communities across northern Ohio, so there are exponential savings in larger numbers. We’re dealing with one electric supplier, one of the largest in the nation.”

Residents would be able to opt out and pursue their own supplier. That choice would be made early in the process of the transfer to NOPEC. McNamara noted that those who are delinquent in their electricity accounts or are served through a payment incentive program would not be eligible for NOPEC service.

If council approves the measures, NOPEC will establish a mailing list of eligible customers and letters will be sent.

“The mailing goes out to the customers, first certified through the PUCO, and it’s an opt-out letter,” McNamara said. “In that letter, it’ll state what the current, introductory offer is going to be and everything moving forward, and if customers want to opt out there’s a card that they can clip at the bottom of the letter that says, ‘I do not want to be a part of NOPEC.’ They mail that back to us and we will take the necessary steps to opt them out and they will go out to whatever.”

McNamara said customers with delinquent accounts may be enrolled after catching up on their payments.

“We refresh every quarter,” he said. “The refresh is we look at Fostoria again and say, ‘Has anybody moved in? Has anybody moved out? It’s just a quarterly update on the customer base.”

If customers want to be included in the NOPEC aggregation, they don’t even have to go to the trouble of mailing anything.

“If they choose to do nothing, which we hope they’ll do, they throw it in the garbage and they’re automatically enrolled in NOPEC,” McNamara said. “That’s the nature of an opt-out program. Once the legislative body decides to join us, they become a member of the community. They’ll be with us as long as they decide to stay with us.”

McNamara said if the ordinances make it through council, customers should be receiving their electricity within 90 days.

McNamara said Fostoria would become the western-most community that NOPEC serves. He said NOPEC is partnered with the Ohio Consumers Council, which makes it a “consumer advocate.”

NOPEC becomes involved in the communities it serves through grants for events and other projects. It has other availabilities, including energy-use advice, commercial and industrial loans and a “Do Not Knock Program” geared toward keeping energy solicitors away from residents.

Mayor Eric Keckler said at Wednesday’s first public hearing his early impressions of NOPEC have been positive.

“We’re fairly new to NOPEC, but I knew that Tiffin has been a partner, so with my connection with Mayor (Aaron) Montz in Tiffin, we knew going into it that they’ve had a good experience with NOPEC,” he said. “We knew they had a track record in a nearby community, so that gave us some confidence.”