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Springfield looks to join energy aggregation program as resident's electric bills skyrocket this winter

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WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
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Many Massachusetts residents have "sticker shock" when they look at an energy bill this winter.

City Council authorized participation in the program last year

The city of Springfield, Massachusetts is looking to join a program that could lead to lower energy bills for residents and businesses.

Springfield is soliciting bids for a consultant to manage a community choice energy aggregation program where the city would use its bulk purchasing ability to leverage competitive rates for electricity used by residents and small businesses that could save money and source more renewable energy.

This comes as people in Massachusetts are paying, for some, record-high electric bills this winter.

Mayor Domenic Sarno said his administration had been looking into community choice energy aggregation, sometimes referred to as municipal aggregation, for several years and decided now is the time to act.

“This makes sense for our residents and possibility the business community too,” Sarno said.

But people should not hope for any immediate help with their electric bills as the regulatory process to get a municipal aggregation program approved can take a year or longer.

“I am hoping that DPU – the Department of Public Utilities – can move at a little quicker pace,” Sarno said. “We want to move on this as soon as possible.”

Eversource and National Grid, the state’s two largest public utility companies, both received approval from the Department of Public Utilities for double-digit rate hikes for their basic service plans this winter. National Grid’s winter rate is the highest ever -- meaning a 64 percent increase in the electric bill for the average home from last winter.

People in Massachusetts are free to purchase electricity from third-party suppliers. But consumer advocates have warned for years about unscrupulous operators who try to sign people to long-term contracts with initially-attractive rates that later balloon.

That is not how community choice aggregation works, stressed Sarno.

“This is not that teaser-rate stuff where you hear terrible stories of people getting these third-party deals and then all of a sudden they get hit with a huge utility bill,” Sarno said.

Last December, the Springfield City Council passed an order authorizing the city to enter into a community choice energy aggregation program. It was sponsored by Councilors Maria Perez and Zaida Govan and City Council President Jesse Lederman.

“I am glad to hear the administration is moving forward with my proposal for community choice energy aggregation,” Lederman said. “This is good news for the city of Springfield and comes as a result of our efforts on the City Council.”

Also advocating for community choice energy aggregation is the Live Well Springfield coalition. Samantha Hamilton, who manages the coalition, which promotes strategies for equitable health outcomes, said more than 170 Massachusetts cities and towns already have the program.

“We are just getting in the game where other environmental justice cities and towns have already take a step forward,” Hamilton said.

The skyrocketing energy bills people are paying this winter have drawn attention on Beacon Hill. Governor Maura Healey said finding relief from high costs for residents is one of the priorities of her fledgling administration.

DPU Chairman Matthew Nelson said the regulators will look for ways “to mitigate” the rate increases they previously approved.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.