Chamber votes to form commercial co-op

The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce’s board voted unanimously on Wednesday to form an electric cooperative for Delmarva Power commercial customers, pending contract approval.

Chamber officials would not release specific information, such as the name of the aggregator, because the deal won’t be finalized until Chamber attorneys approve the contract. Chamber Executive Director Karen McGrath did say, however, that aggregating usage will likely save local businesses money on skyrocketing energy costs.

The co-op would be the first Chamber-led electric cooperative in Delaware, according to a press release sent by the Bethany-Fenwick Chamber on Wednesday.

“The beauty is nobody’s business is too small,” McGrath said. “Once everybody pulls together, everybody gets the same deal. Everybody is going to get the same price per kilowatt.”

McGrath said that the aggregator working for the co-op would shop on the market for energy prices and lock a set price for co-op members into 24- to 36-month supply contracts. Delmarva Power will still be distributing the electricity and customers would call that company for any problems with the service.

Members will have to pay a yet undetermined application fee to join the co-op, she added. The Chamber is planning to hold an informational meeting on the proposal at 2 p.m. on May 23 at the Holiday Inn Express in Bethany Beach.

McGrath said that she expects to start accepting applications for the co-op that day. McGrath said that in the best-case scenario, members could switch to the co-op supply by July. In the worst-case scenario, McGrath said, the Chamber will hold the applications until the market value for energy goes down and purchase energy likely sometime in the winter.

All businesses — outside of home-based ones — are encouraged to attend the meeting and learn more about the possible money-saving opportunity.

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

Even businesses from Maryland are welcome to attend the May 23 meeting, but businesses must be members of the Chamber to join the co-op. To register a business with the Chamber, visit its Web site at or call the office at (302) 539-2100.

Prospective Chamber members have to fill out an application and pay annual dues. For an average business with one to six employees, that annual charge is $125, and McGrath said that Chamber dues are 98 percent tax deductible. McGrath said the more businesses that join, the better.

“This particular group is going to have to set a limit, but if there’s enough interest we can start another,” she said. “The more kilowatts you’re buying, the better your rate.”

On May 1, because of high supply contracts based on rising fossil-fuel prices, Delmarva Power commercial customers’ electric rates increased anywhere from 47 to 117 percent.

The Chamber started looking into the cooperative alternative in February, when the company first announced the hikes in prices. Government and residential cooperative efforts have also stemmed from the rising prices.