Originally published on the ECOreport.
Seventeen municipalities are involved in this pilot program, which has been described as “a transformative shift in the way we buy and use electricity.” Audrey Zibelman, Commissioner of the New York State Public Service Commission, said she has “great hopes for this as a critical pilot for the Reforming the Energy Vision.” This will be the first Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) pilot program under Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy.
Sustainable Westchester Leads The Way
“We want to go to 100% renewable electricity in Westchester County by 2020. It is the entirely smart thing to do,” said Mike Gordon, Co-Chair of Sustainable Westchester.
He added, “I believe we could be close to 100% carbon free, nationally, by 2030.”
Sustainable Westchester’s pilot program will “probably have its official launch in the first week of April.” Ninety thousand (90,000) residential and small business customers in 17 of Westchester Smart Power’s municipalities will participate in the first stage.
Five other towns have passed local laws that make it possible for them to join the program “quite quickly” and another 15 in the Sustainable Westchester community could join later.
This will be the first Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) pilot program under Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy.
There are CCA initiatives underway in at least three other counties and Gordon “knows there are discussions going on in New York City.”
A Web Of Microgrids
Part of their vision is for “a web of microgrids” throughout the county. Ten location studies are currently underway in Westchester county.
Microgrids provide clean backup power at the local level, which gives the state’s grid far greater resilience in the face of future events like Hurricane Sandy.
“If you can get 10-15% of demand response resource that is available at peak (demand), that’s fantastic. If you can get 6-8% that is available at all times on little or no notice – that’s fantastic, but even that isn’t enough to deal with a major problem. Clearly, ubiquitous storage in numerous microgrids gives you the ability to adjust within a unified grid, and take pockets of load off the grid if you want to,” said Gordon.
Jobs That Would Otherwise Go Out Of State
For Westchester county, producing electricity locally also translates into jobs that would otherwise go to out of state companies.
“From the perspective of a consumer advocate, which I’d like to consider myself, the opportunity from renewables is simply an intelligent financial decision every way,” said Gordon.
“We want to create jobs in sustainability in the county. We want to be a business destination. What that means is businesses that come here need to feel that they have a reliable source of power. That’s beyond being up during Sandy, that’s talking about a uniform power quality so that their equipment doesn’t go through the mill.”
The Cooperation of ConEdison
This project would not be possible without the cooperation of Con Edison, which will continue as the electrical supplier.
“Everybody is coming from a good intent,” said Gordon.
“This utility bringing things to the table that only a utility can provide, like measurement for the entire consumption of the county of Westchester. That kind of measurement can only be done by the utility and we feel that the utility should get value. Of course we are going to take all of the value, but we are not going to take all of it and that is high margin money for the utility.”
The contract Sustainable Westchester has negotiated with ConEdison, “… Inoculates us against future price rises, allows us to develop renewable power plants, accelerates to opportunity to develop power plants if and when fossil fuel prices go up. We can take the value (of the we have already purchased) and feed renewable power development = jobs, jobs, jobs.”
There are provisions that enable Sustainable Westchester to control over the energy it is receiving.
“We can take the power purchase contracts that they (ConEdison) has purchased for us and replace them with renewable generation. If they liquidate their existing power contracts and make a profit in that, that profit goes directly to reducing our consumers’ cost of energy. If fossil fuels prices go way up, we’re protected against that. The price of renewable power is coming down every single year.”
If Westchester uses less electricity at peak demand, and that is verified by the public service commission, the CCA can make use of those reduced costs throughout the entire following year.
How It Came About
Gordon traced the origins of Westchester’s push to form a CCA back to a series of webinars his company, Consumer Powerline (C-Power) held around 2008. The idea started getting real traction after Amy Pollen, the Energy Chair in the state’s Assembly Committee, got involved. By June 2014, legislation for the program was passed by both the Assembly & Senate.
“Then in December, I get a call from the Public Service Commission because the governor hasn’t signed the bill yet. The service commission said, ‘we’re concerned because A, we don’t believe we need we need legislation to get this done, and B, this is going to give the message to all the other towns and counties around the sate that they can’t do it. and that is not the message we want leave.”
Gordon described his reaction with as, “Come on man, it’s going to be another year before we get authorization to even start moving ahead on this puppy.”
“I was told that we had to consider how we would do this pilot, therefore get the details to the Chair of the Public Service Commission by the following Monday. That’s what we did. December of 2014 we got the details to Audrey Zibelman and Audrey expressed that thing to fruition. We had an order by February 26, 2015,” said Gordon.
Someone from the Department of Public Service told Gordon she had never seen anything go through so quickly.
“It was at that point that we started the first of, by my estimate, over two hundred town board meetings. I have personally presented at, and more importantly answered questions at, 160 of these,” said Gordon.
Sustainable Westchester’s pilot program goes online in April. Ninety thousand (90,000) residential and small business customers in 17 of the 20 Westchester Smart Power municipalities are involved.
Five other Westchester towns have passed local laws that make it possible for them to join the program “quite quickly” and another fifteen towns in the Sustainable Westchester could join later.
This will be the first Community Choice Aggregation pilot program under Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy, which calls for 50% of the state’s electrical generation to be renewable by 2030.
Photo credits: White Plains, NY (one of the 20 Sustainable Westchester communities that want to go forward – photo by Ritch Mitchell via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Mike Gordon, Co-Chair of Sustainable Westchester;A road in Bedford, NY, one of the Sustainable Westchester communities that want to go forward – photo by June Marie via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Mamaroneck, NY, another of the Sustainable Westchester communities that want to go forward – photo by Doug Kerr via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License) ; Audrey Zibelman, Commissioner of the New York State Public Service Commission – Courtesy New York State Department of Public Service