TEANECK — The township will have a question on the ballot this month asking voters to approve a switch to a green energy supplier.
A group called Food & Water Watch and five residents petitioned to have a question placed on the ballot about whether the council should approve the “community energy aggregation program ordinance,” which would change the energy service provider to residents. Residents would have to opt out if they did not want their energy supplier changed.
An energy aggregation program allows a municipality to make bulk purchases of energy, which residents can buy for lower cost or to meet clean energy goals.
The township will have not one but two questions on the ballot this fall, both of which required court involvement. A judge ordered earlier this month that the green energy initiative be placed on the ballot after it was initially rejected by the municipal clerk.
Judge Robert Wilson also sided with petitioners this month on a suit regarding putting a question on this year’s ballot about moving the council elections from May to November.
Electronic signatures at issue
The petitioners for the energy referendum, Elissa Schwartz, Bettina Hempel, Paul Rogovin, Lisa Rose and Laurie Ludmer, had collected electronic signatures as part of their effort to qualify to have their question on the ballot.
They were able to do so because Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order last year allowing for electronic election petitions during the pandemic. That order expired July 4.
The township clerk, Doug Ruccione, rejected the electronic signatures because they were submitted after July 4 despite the fact that they were collected before that date.
But Wilson, in Superior Court in Bergen County, declared that the electronic petitions were valid and the question should be placed on the ballot.
More:Judge sides with Teaneck residents who want a referendum on shifting the election date
What is an energy aggregate?
Teaneck isn’t the first community to consider the switch. Glen Rock adopted a similar program in 2019, although in that case it was approved by ordinance rather than through a ballot question.
Today, Glen Rock, Glen Ridge, Livingston, Montclair, Maplewood, South Orange and Verona are partners in a wider government energy aggregation program, or GEA. The energy supplied includes a high proportion of renewable energy sources, and residents can opt for 100% renewables for a $6 monthly fee.
The opt-out aspect of the programs is most commonly the hard sell for some residents, though.
According to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the process works like this: Residents are sent a notice after the program is approved by the governing body. The residential customers within a participating municipality are automatically included in the aggregate program unless they submit an opt-out response within 30 calendar days after the postmark on the notice.
The residential customers can leave the program with 30 days’ notice at any time without penalty. If a residential customer is included in the program and then decides to leave the program, it will take about one to two billing cycles for the account to be switched back.
One Passaic County town, Woodland Park, joined an energy aggregator program in early 2016, but by December of that year, the council decided not to renew its contract, citing widespread dissatisfaction among ratepayers.
Regardless of who the energy supplier is, customers will continue to get service from their public utility — in Teaneck’s case, PSE&G — which delivers the energy into homes and handles billing and service calls.
2021 election New Jersey
The year, New Jersey voters can for the first time cast their ballots early in person. Designated voting locations will be open Saturday, Oct. 23, through Sunday, Oct. 31. Hours will be Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Election Day is Nov. 2.
Katie Sobko is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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