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Williamstown Residents Reminded of Potential Electricity Savings
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:17AM / Friday, January 13, 2023
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A screenshot Wednesday morning from the commonwealth's energyswitchma.gov website.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Residents this week were reminded that if they are not enrolled in a municipal electricity aggregation program, now could be the time.
 
"Most folks are aware that bills are going up, and if you're still with National Grid, you got sticker shock the last couple of months with bills going up considerably," Town Manager Bob Menicocci said at Monday's Select Board meeting.
 
"The town does have an aggregator that has a much cheaper source of electricity through next November. We don't know what will portend after that, because we'll have to negotiate a new rate. In the meantime, there is no reason for any resident to be paying the National Grid rate currently."
 
Nearly 10 years ago, Williamstown and nine other Berkshire County communities signed a group-purchasing agreement with distributor Colonial Power Group of Marlborough. 
 
Anyone who lived in town at that time was automatically enrolled in the aggregation program unless they chose to opt out.
 
"But if you're a new resident [post 2014], it's the opposite," Menicocci said. "You have to opt in. We want to remind folks that there's this ability to switch over."
 
National Grid, which serves North Berkshire, had projected last fall that the average monthly electric bill would jump 64 percent because of higher electric costs caused by global conflict, inflation and high demand.
 
Residents of Williamstown and other communities that are part of the Colonial Power Group purchasing program can enroll by visiting colonialpowergroup.com and searching through the "our communities" page.
 
Even though residents' bills may come from National Grid, in Williamstown, for example, the supplier is listed as "Dynergy (Williamstown AGG)," a Dallas, Texas, firm that is supplying electricity, for now, at a rate of 10.671 cents per kilowatt hour. 
 
According to the commonwealth's website, energyswitchma.gov, that is significantly lower than any other kWh prices currently available in the area.
 
Menicocci said Colonial Power Group likely will begin negotiating its next contract for a supplier this spring.
 
The Select Board, meanwhile, this month got some certainty that Menicocci will be the one representing the town in such agreements.
 
The town manager the board picked last spring and technically appointed on a temporary basis became the full-time town manager thanks to an action of town meeting in June and the Legislature this winter.
 
"I would like to announce that Bob is no longer our 'interim town manager,' " Select Board member Andy Hogeland said toward the end of Monday's meeting. "One of Gov. Baker's last things he did was sign our charter change, which removed the residency requirement. Bob's contract has him automatically lose the interim title the day that happens.
 
"Hats off to [Rep.] John Barrett for muscling it through. It ran into some procedural obstacles."
 
While the home rule petition may have run into some obstacles on Beacon Hill, the proposed change to the 1956 town charter sailed through last year's annual town meeting without debate.
 
Other petitions from the 2022 town meeting have been less successful, Menicocci told the board.
 
A separate charter amendment that would strike all references to gender in the 1956 document [like the antiquated term Board of Selectmen] failed to clear the Legislature. And a request to increase the number of all-alcohol sale licenses in the town also is stalled in Boston.
 
"It was a strange [legislative] session in that things seemed to be getting gummed up for no good reason," Menicocci said. "Bills that were not controversial were just being left in limbo."
 
Menicocci said Williamstown was one of several towns across the commonwealth with similar requests to increase the number of alcohol licenses available in their communities.
 
"The Legislature isn't super keen on making those changes unless there are a lot of specifics," Menicocci said. "In our case, it was just wanting more. We didn't need more for this specific [business or commercial zone]. Sometimes that's the difference in those things moving forward.
 
"Again, we'll follow up with the representative's office on the bills. It could strictly just mean potentially refiling."
 
Menicocci reported to the Select Board that Cara Farrell has begun her term as the shared human resources director for the communities of Adams, North Adams and Williamstown.
 
"She was previously working with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, so she's familiar with us and other town entities here," Menicocci said. She understands what it's like to work with a variety of communities, so we felt that was good experience to bring to the table for working with several jurisdictions.
 
"In light of recruitments, we're obviously excited about having assistance with our recruiting to address a number of needs, including the DEI lens on recruiting, having another set of hands to help push that."
 
One of her first big projects for the town will be helping to replace Department of Public Works Director Chris Lemoine, who has announced he will be retiring in March, Menicocci said.
 
In other business on Monday, Hogeland informed his colleagues of a request from the board of the Affordable Housing Trust to bring an article to May's annual town meeting that would expand eligibility for the town's property tax exemption for seniors with low income and assets under the state's 41C program.
 
The AHT is recommending: that the age of eligibility in town be lowered from 70 to 65; the amount of exemption be raised from $500 to $1,000; the limit on assets go from $28,000 filing singly and $30,000 filing jointly to $40,000 and $55,000 with an annual adjustment based on the Consumer Price Index; and the limit on income go from $13,000 singly and $15,000 jointly to $20,000 and $30,000, also with a CPI adjustment.
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