[In the player above, watch related coverage on an expected spike in FirstEnergy electricity rates coming in summer 2023.]

(WJW) — The Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council, or NOPEC, is once again re-enrolling electricity customers in many of the Ohio communities it serves, prompting a slew of questions to the FOX 8 newsroom about energy aggregation in Ohio and the changes coming to Northeast Ohioans’ electric bills in June.

NOPEC dumped more than half-a-million electricity ratepayers back to FirstEnergy last summer after its rates skyrocketed due to volatility in the energy market. Now that state regulators have recertified NOPEC as an electricity aggregator — following a lengthy inquiry — those previous customers are now being re-enrolled. Meter readings start in June.

Those ratepayer have an opportunity to opt out, if they act fast. The deadline is May 2.

Here’s an explanation on opting out, and answers to some other frequently asked questions:

How do I opt out of NOPEC?

Electric customers living in the more than 200 Ohio communities NOPEC serves once again have the choice to opt out of electricity aggregation and choose their own electricity supplier.

They’ve since gotten letters in the mail with an opt-out form that must be returned. Right now, there’s no penalty for opting out, but consumers have to do it by May 2. Consumers can opt out once every three years without penalty.

If you waited until the last minute to opt out, your best bet is to email a photo of the completed and signed form to out@nopec.org, fax it to 440-774-4422 or call the customer service line at 855-667-3201.

If you lost the form or never got one, you’ll also have to call to opt-out, a spokesperson said.

Be warned: NOPEC’s call centers are currently overloaded, leading to long wait times.

Can’t find your opt-out letter?

Here’s what it looks like:

The enclosed form can otherwise be returned by mail to NOPEC at P.O. Box 81100, Cleveland, OH 44181-0100, but it must be postmarked by May 2, the opt-out deadline.

Those who don’t act will automatically be re-enrolled in NOPEC, and those who want to go back under the aggregator’s umbrella don’t need to do anything. An enrollment notice about the change in supplier will arrive from their utility.

Even at that point, you can still terminate your agreement with NOPEC at any time without paying a fee — but you’ll still be paying NOPEC for the electricity you used up until the date you switched. It can take a couple of billing cycles before the rate changes.

“NOPEC will continue to process calls and opt out customers after today’s deadline, and will work diligently to remove these customers from the aggregation as quickly as possible,” spokesperson Dave Jankowski told FOX 8 News in an email Tuesday. “NOPEC will continue to make every effort to ensure that any customer that wants to opt-out can do so. These customers will not be assessed any fee and, to the extent they are served by NOPEC for a short period of time, they will be paying less than the [standard service offer].”

Those living in NOPEC communities are automatically re-enrolled every three years, meaning ratepayers who want to opt-out also have to do so every three years.

Want to permanently opt out of NOPEC?

You can permanently remove yourself from the pool of customers eligible to participate in electricity aggregation by filling out a form on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio website. You can also call the commission toll-free at 800-686-PUCO (800-686-7826). You’ll need to give your name, service address and more information about your utility account.

Here’s more information about Ohio’s “Do Not Aggregate” list.

What is NOPEC?

Energy aggregators like NOPEC were formed after the state deregulated its energy market in 2001, allowing consumers to choose their energy suppliers and find the best rates. Since NOPEC buys in bulk for many customers, its option is often cheaper than buying from a local utility.

NOPEC is Ohio’s largest nonprofit energy aggregator and serves more than 200 communities in 19 Ohio counties, about three dozen of which are around Greater Cleveland. If you live in the FOX 8 viewing area, there’s a good chance you’re in one of them.

NOPEC is a nonprofit and doesn’t make any money off the electricity you use. It bought that energy at auction from a supplier. NOPEC charges based on the price it paid at auction, which can fluctuate depending on various factors.

Is NOPEC an extra charge?

NOPEC may look like it’s an extra charge on your electric bill, but it’s actually the same charge customers have always paid to the company that’s generating their electricity — except it’s being paid to NOPEC’s supplier, NextEra Energy Services Ohio, rather than a FirstEnergy utility.

Your utility won’t change after enrolling in NOPEC. It will still be Ohio Edison, Illuminating Company, Toledo Edison or American Electric Power, depending on where you live in Ohio.

NOPEC is only involved in the electricity generation part of your monthly bill. The other part of the bill is for the electricity provider. The utility poles and service lines that run electricity to ratepayers’ homes are owned by FirstEnergy, meaning NOPEC customers will still pay FirstEnergy to provide their power.

Click here to see an example of an Ohio Edison bill, and note that supplier charges (i.e. NOPEC) will appear in Section I, while provider charges (i.e. Ohio Edison or The Illuminating Company) will appear in Section H.

How did I get enrolled in NOPEC?

In NOPEC communities, residents have already decided at the ballot box that their community should use an opt-out aggregator for electricity, natural gas or both. Local officials there then chose to use NOPEC for that service.

NOPEC is an “opt-out” aggregator, so customers in its communities are automatically enrolled. But they have a 21-day window to opt out and choose their own provider before joining.

NOPEC sends those opt-out letters by mail every three years. If ratepayers don’t send back those opt-out letters and actively seek out their own electric or natural gas provider, they’ll end up with NOPEC.

Some viewers alarmed by letters informing them that NOPEC will once again be their electricity supplier told FOX 8 News it sounds like “slamming,” which is the practice of switching ratepayers to another utility supplier without their authorization — and also illegal. But that’s not what’s happening here.

Residents in NOPEC member communities have already voted to join an opt-out energy aggregation service. Local officials then pick the service to use. Since NOPEC enrollments thereafter are automatic — and the official notifications come exclusively by mail, per state rules — it’s most likely ratepayers simply missed the switchover.

Some Northeast Ohio communities have been with NOPEC since 2000, including Lakewood, Rocky River and East Cleveland. Others joined more recently, like Cuyahoga Heights in 2018.

Not sure if you’re in a NOPEC community? Click here for a map.

What is NOPEC’s electric rate right now?

NOPEC’s rate for meter readings in June through December will be 6.45 cents per kilowatt-hour. After the first six months, however, NOPEC ratepayers will return to its standard program price, which could change month-to-month.

NOPEC also offers 12- and 24-month fixed term pricing. Those who previously chose those fixed term products will return to the same program starting in June.

By comparison, NOPEC’s rate is about half of what you could expect to pay a FirstEnergy utility for the electricity you’ll use this summer and fall. Here are their rates per kilowatt-hour effective June 1 — what’s called the “Price to Compare”:

  • Ohio Edison: 12.39 cents per kWh
  • The Illuminating Company: 12.4 cents per kWh
  • Toledo Edison: 12.41 cents per kWh

Ratepayers who opt out of NOPEC and don’t shop for their own supplier effectively choose to stay with FirstEnergy for electricity generation. A typical FirstEnergy customer using an average 750-kilowatt hours per month will see their bill rise about 47% from May 2023 to June 2024, according to a news release last week from the utility.

“With energy rates elevated as we head into the hot, summer months, now is a great time to review your options so that you can select a rate or program that works best for you and your family,” Mark Jones, a FirstEnergy vice president, is quoted in the release. “By selecting a competitive energy supplier that offers a rate lower than the price to compare on your bill, you may be able to pay less each month.”

It should be noted that NOPEC’s six-month rate will still be a small increase from what many FirstEnergy customers are paying right now for electricity generation. FirstEnergy companies’ Price to Compare for April and May is just under 6 cents.

How do I choose my own electricity supplier?

Ohioans don’t get to choose the utility that delivers power to their homes, but they do get to choose who supplies that power.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s Apples to Apples comparison tool lets ratepayers see how much electricity suppliers in the state will charge for certain periods — what’s called the “Price to Compare.” It also shows whether the offer is for a fixed or variable rate, the length of the billing term and whether there are any extra fees.

To compare electricity suppliers, select “Electric,” then select the utility serving your home from the drop-down list. At the top of its page, you’ll see its price to compare for the current billing term. It’s recommended you have your most recent utility bill on-hand.

When you find an offer that looks right for you, you can contact that supplier for more information on the offer or to sign up. The utilities commission recommends asking them several questions:

  • Are you certified by the PUCO?
  • Is the price fixed or is it variable?
  • If it is a variable price, how does it change?
  • Are there any built-in price increases or decreases?
  • Does the price depend on how much electricity I use or when I use it?
  • How long is the contract for that rate?
  • What happens when my contract expires?
  • Do you charge any cancellation fees?
  • Can I stay on budget billing with my electric company?
  • Do you offer budget billing for your part of the bill?
  • Will there be switching, membership or other fees?
  • Are there any deposit requirements?
  • Will I receive one or two bills a month?
  • What sources are used to produce the electricity?
  • Is there a customer incentive for signing up?

If you’re asked to sign a contract, pore it over and make sure you understand the terms and conditions like the length of the billing term, the attached fees and how you’ll be billed. Don’t give out your utility account number until you’re ready to sign.

A confirmation letter will come by mail, and you have seven days to cancel if you change your mind.

Here’s the commission’s breakdown on how energy choice in Ohio works.

The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel offers some tips on its website for picking an energy supplier:

Still have questions?

Here’s a list of frequently asked questions on enrollment and the opt-out process published this month by NOPEC:

You can also get more answers to frequently asked questions on NOPEC’s website. You can also call NOPEC’s customer service line 24/7 at 855-667-3201.