A three-town proposal, with Lacey and Stafford, to cut home energy costs looked fairly good for a while to Manchester. But officials eventually saw snags in the supplier's terms. So they're taking their own path to savings for taxpayers.

Gabel Associates is a pioneer and a leader in delivering energy to entire communities at the shore, at rates that match or better those of Jersey Central Power and Light.

Manchester officials had sought to establish a bulk-buy plan for a considerable amount of time, said  Business Administrator Donna Markulic. But several factors led to the decision to withdraw from the proposal.

Initial talks with Gabel began in November 2013, Markulic noted, and led to tentative terms in October 2014. "Then we had a long wait, because the electric prices were actually pretty low on their own until they started increasing again in 2016."

One of the main problems, Markulic said, is a provision that requires automatic inclusion of all ratepayers, with a manual opt-out procedure.

The stipulation, she observed, would place an undue onus on the township as stewards of homeowners' best interests. Rates would require consistent monitoring. In the event of an unfavorable fluctuation, "we would have everyone opt out, and we would [initiate] town-wide notification.."

Manchester employs reverse 911, and subscribes to the Nixle system, which sends e-mail and text notifications. Still, Markulic harbors concerns for those who either don't own cell phones or find computers challenging, especially the elderly.

The other main sticking point is the burden of opting out placed on each ratepayer. Manchester officials sought the ability to remove all subscribers in one stroke if necessary, a stipulation to which Gabel Associates gave a cool reception.

The result - they'll re-start the process to reach mutually agreeable terms with a third-party supplier.

"We have passed a resolution requesting at least a 10-percent savings," said Markulic. "We would then go out to bid to ensure at least 10-percent."

While a multi-town arrangement clearly offers financial advantages - a little like wholesale buying versus retail - it also requires mutual coordination and, possibly at times, compromise, that don't exist in a solo agreement.

As Markulic sees it, an individual approach allows the township greater control over the service.. "We would just worry about Manchester residents."

The multi-town proposal was reviewed by the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, with returned it with recommendations for amendments that would work to Manchester's advantage.

"Obviously," Markulc said, "if the state felt it was a concern...we did not want to ignore that letter from Rate Counsel."

So, it's back to the drawing board, starting with a resolution to seek contractor proposals, and learn what each responding company can offer in rates and savings, based on Manchester's population.

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