Chamber co-op draws 76 members

Some 60 members joined the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce-led electric cooperative in the last week before the June 30 registration deadline. Now, 76 members representing 181 accounts make up the co-op effort, which might bid for electric rates within weeks or even days.

“We’re thrilled with the turnout,” said Karen McGrath, the Chamber’s executive director, adding that market experts told her that as few as 25 to 30 businesses could negotiate a lower rate. “We’re thrilled to have come in with three times that much.”

McGrath said that she hopes to bid out for lower rates in the next 10 days.

According to a government economist, though, forecasted regional commercial electricity rate averages from July to September at 12.7 cents/kWh are 1 cent higher than averages in any other quarter, mainly because of cooling demand in the summer.

“That’s the biggest driver,” said Tancred Lidderdale, a senior economist with the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy. “The demand for electricity peaks in the summer months,” he added. “That in general drives up the cost of generating electricity.”

CQI’s Richard Anderson — a principal of the Columbia, Md.-based aggregation company working with the Chamber — did not return phone calls seeking comment on current market conditions.

Anderson said earlier, however, that participants in the cooperative could receive an 8 to 25 percent rate decrease from current Delmarva Power bills. Only Delmarva Power commercial customers who were members of the Chamber were eligible for participation, prompting 12 businesses – or towns – to join the Chamber to receive that eligibility.

Anderson said that small businesses — depending on rate class — will likely see an 8 to 10 percent savings, while medium-sized businesses could see a 12 to 16 percent savings. Large businesses could see savings in excess of 25 percent by joining the co-op, he said.

“This program will provide them budget stability in what is clearly a volatile energy market,” Anderson said in an earlier interview.

The Chamber’s board voted unanimously on May 3 to form a co-op for its members because of high energy costs. On May 1, because of high supply contracts based on rising fossil fuel prices, Delmarva Power commercial customers’ electric rates increased from 47 to 117 percent.

“Everybody is concerned about the increase in power rates,” Tom Neville, the president of the Chamber’s board of directors and a co-owner of the Cottage Café in Bethany Beach, said after the board vote in May. “This looks like something that is going to help. Electric prices are still going to go up, but hopefully not as much.”

McGrath announced the Chamber’s partnership with CQI on May 8. CQI is currently working with 19 other Chambers of Commerce throughout the region on similar cooperative efforts to counter rising prices. McGrath said that recent receipt of the first bills since the Delmarva Power increase encouraged registration with the co-op.

“Now it’s a reality,” she said.

The Chamber started looking into the cooperative alternative in February, when the electric company first announced the then-pending rate hikes. Governmental and residential cooperative efforts have also stemmed from the rising prices.

Check the Coastal Point next week for continuing coverage.