QUINCY — City councilors have approved a plan that they hope will stabilize electricity rates for city residents, protect consumers from predatory companies and capitalize on renewable energy options.
On Monday, councilors voted unanimously to move forward with a a plan that will allow for municipal aggregation in Quincy, an increasingly-popular program that allows cities and towns to purchase electricity supply in bulk on behalf of customers. Proponents, including the city’s energy and sustainability director, say the program will lead to lower rates, fewer changes in rates, consumer protection and a smaller environmental footprint.
“This is really about consumer choice, we want to provide options to our residents and hopefully save them some money along the way,” Ward 3 Councilor Ian Cain said.
The city started exploring municipal aggregation almost two years ago, and hired contractor Green Energy to come up with a plan last July. That plan was approved by councilors Monday, and will soon be submitted to the state’s Department of Energy Resources and Department of Public Utilities. If there are no delays, the program could start in January 2021.
“Everyone up here is very excited to share this with our constituents,” City Councilor At-Large Nina Liang said.
Under municipal aggregation, instead of Quincy customers buying electricity directly from a provider — like National Grid — the city will buy electricity in bulk and hopefully secure a lower rate with more stability. Consumers will still pay National Grid directly for the electricity, and the provider will still be responsible for responding to emergencies and outages. There will be no change in existing low-income assistance or budget billing programs.
Because the city is the one buying the electricity rather than a home owner, proponents say the program will keep predatory companies from calling and scamming residents.
“There has been a lot of discussion and issues in Quincy about residents signing contracts with individual suppliers where there are hidden costs and penalties,” Shelly Dein, Quincy’s energy director, said. “That won’t happen under our plan – this is really a protection for the consumers.”
Municipal aggregation is also used for environmental reasons, Dein said, because most programs require a higher percentage of energy come from renewable sources than is usually required by the state.
Residents will be able to choose from four different plans, all of which will pull various amounts of electricity from renewable sources. Under the standard plan, which residents will automatically be opted into, 26 percent of the electricity provided will come from renewable sources — roughly 10 percent more than the state requirement of 16 percent.
Customers who want more or less of their electricity to come from renewable sources will have three alternative options: a “basic” plan that provides the required 16 percent, a plan that provides 50 percent more renewable energy than the state requires or a plan that ensures 100 percent of electricity comes from renewable sources.
Larry Chretien, executive director of the nonprofit Energy Consumers Alliance, said the difference between the standard plan, at 26 percent renewable, and the lowest possible plan, at 16 percent renewable, is about $20 per year.
“What we’ve found is that most people won’t choose to opt down, but that a few will even opt up if given the choice,” he said.
Green Energy, the company that put together the plan for Quincy, said it will soon launch an extensive public awareness campaign to help residents understand the new program. All residents will receive a letter asking them if they want to participate in municipal aggregation, and those who won’t respond will automatically be opted in.
Residents will be able to opt out at any time for no penalty.
More than 50 Massachusetts towns already participate in municipal aggregation, including Abington, Carver, Pembroke, Plymouth and Rockland. Boston and Worcester have also submitted plans to the Department of Public Utilities.