Residents of Barnstable County, Massachusetts pay the sixth-highest electricity rates in the country - roughly 14 cents/kWh on average. Pushed by aggregation advocates, who expect to reduce bills by 25%, the county is currently engaged in what may be the nation's first example of large-scale automatic small consumer aggregation.
As of September 1997, 14 of the 15 towns within Barnstable County voted in favor of an aggregation strategy described previously in this paper as a "loose franchise," whereby residences, small business and the few industrial operations located in the Cape Cod area would be aggregated unless they specifically opted out. The aggregated electrical loads of 162,000 customers in 15 towns may be "on the market" as early as July of 1998. To Commonwealth Electric, the incumbent utility, these customers represent approximately 300 Mw-half the company's load-and between $175 and $200 million in annual revenues.
Barnstable County has proposed several terms and conditions for potential suppliers. For example, to secure the cooperation of Commonwealth Electric, the utility will continue to provide metering and billing services during the first phase of aggregation. "Allowing the [Commonwealth Electric] to keep metering and billing functions was a sweetener for them," says analyst Nancy Brockway, who added that such a strategy could be a bargaining chip for local governments.32
Barnstable County will contract with a single power supplier per five-year term; that supplier will provide all the electricity needed by the county's consumers. However, county planners expect to satisfy growth in electricity demand with a combination of energy efficiency and development of new renewable resources, funded by a surcharge to be assessed on electricity distribution. Because a number of citizens voiced support for local wind projects, approximately $40,000 has been earmarked to study the feasibility of a wind farm at an undisclosed site in the Cape Cod region.33