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Whately to join Hampshire Power program

—The Board of Selectmen has unanimously agreed to opt into a municipal aggregation program that allows for bulk-buying of power for western Massachusetts communities.

“I’m ready to support this,” Selectman Jonathan Edwards said Tuesday night.

Whately joins 31 towns across Franklin, Hampshire and Worcester counties in the aggregation.

Hampshire Power, a program run by the Northampton-based Hampshire Council of Governments, aims to offer homeowners and businesses another option to buy electricity from a utility other than National Grid and Western Massachusetts Electric Co.

“This allows for us to use (bulk-buying power) instead of one individual going to a supplier (in order) to drive the price down,” said Hampshire Power’s Executive Director Todd Ford at a recent board meeting. The board has given its approval with the hopes that the public is well-informed of the changes to come on their electricity bills and are aware that they can choose not to participate.

The main change residents may see on their bills will hardly be noticeable. Instead of the small printed words WMECO, it will read HCOG Aggregate. The difference is the energy charge, not the distribution.

Residents can choose to opt out of the aggregation and continue using WMECO. Ford recently explained that before the aggregation starts, residents will receive a postcard in the mail to opt out. After this initial period, residents still have the opportunity to return to the default service at any time by calling WMECO.

The reason municipal aggregation is an opt-out instead of an opt-in program is that under state law it is structured this way.

Before Whately residents start to see the small changes on their monthly bills, the selectmen need a town meeting vote to enter into a five-year contract with Hampshire Power. After the five years, if the town is dissatisfied, the board can choose not to renew the contract.

It is through this town meeting that the selectmen hope to inform residents of the new program. In addition, the board will inform residents through a Whately Scoop article, the town’s monthly newsletter.

The council created Hampshire Power, a not-for-profit organization, in 2006 as a way to provide bulk-buying power to towns.

The council is not a newcomer to the electricity business. It supplies electricity to about 100 municipal and business customers, including 55 town governments and 24 school, water and fire districts and one state agency, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. The total population of the participating communities is more than 100,000.

Over the six years, it has saved those communities $1.6 million. It is hoping to do the same for homeowners and businesses.

Hampshire County participants include Belchertown, Chesterfield, Cummington, Easthampton, Goshen, Granby, Hadley, Hatfield, Huntington, Middlefield, Pelham, Plainfield, Southampton, Westhampton, Williamsburg and, most recently, Northampton. In Franklin County, Deerfield, Leverett, Buckland, Charlemont, Conway, Montague, Northfield, Rowe, Warwick and Wendell have joined the program.

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