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Environmental News

Sustainable Westchester’s Energy Rebate Program Not the Only Game in Town

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March 28, 2023

By Alexander Roberts–

Last week, Sustainable Westchester, a non-profit energy company, announced its partnership with a for-profit company to provide cash rebates to Con Ed customers for reducing energy use during peak energy demand events. Mayors and representatives of seven rivertown villages stood together to promote the program, called GridRewards, which centers on a free mobile phone application that notifies customers of peak demand times (see https://thehudsonindependent.com/a-new-free-app-aims-to-curb-energy-use-and-pay-cash-to-consumers-who-use-it/).

During the hottest summer days, participants receive push notifications, prompting them to lower their electricity use by reducing air conditioning or refraining from the use of large appliances. If too few customers utilize these “demand response” programs, Con Ed must resort to older standby “peaker plants” that emit more pollution and cost the system about $1 billion to maintain.

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GridRewards is a product of Logical Buildings, which is Sustainable’s for-profit-partner. But it is only one of seven “aggregators” approved by Con Ed to enlist small residential customers. In response to the mayors’ endorsement of GridRewards, a competing company listed on the Con Ed Aggregator website asserted that it provides Con Ed customers with a better deal than GridRewards.

Under the Con Ed program, customers who sign up earn cash rebates based on the amount of energy they save, with the money split between Con Ed and Sustainable Westchester. A spokesperson for Meltek claimed that his company provides a better split for the consumer than GridRewards: its customers get approximately 75% of the cash award, with 25% retained by Meltek. After repeated requests to provide the split between the company and its consumers, a spokesperson for Sustainable Westchester and Logical Buildings told The Hudson Independent that they “were not able” to disclose comparable figures.

Meltek also asserts that its customers receive their cash awards within a couple of weeks of the conclusion of the seasonal program in September. A spokesperson for Sustainable said their Con Ed customers received their rebates in February, five months later.

David Buchwald, Meltek’s Vice President for Business Development and a former State Assemblyman from White Plains, said that while GridRewards requires Con Ed customers to have an online Con Ed account and agree to share all of their data, Meltek asks only for the customer’s Con Ed account number for its free app. Unlike GridRewards, said Buchwald, Meltek also allows its customers the opportunity to take their cash rebates in the form of gift cards, through VISA, for example, or Amazon—an option Buchwald says makes the program more accessible to low-income customers that may not have bank accounts.

Asked about Westchester government officials promoting one private company over six others without comparing the services, Buchwald said, “It might have made sense when GridRewards was the only game in town a few years ago, but today government should ensure consumers know they have a choice and are as well-informed as possible.”

The new Sustainable Westchester program to save energy during peak power periods is unrelated to its Energy Services Company (ESCO) program, called Westchester Power, which is also a partnership with a for-profit company. That program signed up 40% of Westchester Con Ed customers for a guaranteed fixed rate for 100% renewable power that beat the Con Ed rate for standard non-renewable power for most of 2022. But in November 2022, thousands of Westchester households saw their guaranteed fixed rate double to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is currently 50% higher than the fluctuating standard supply price offered by Con Ed.

“In light of the Westchester Power experience,” said Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, who generally endorses Con Ed programs that reward consumers for saving energy during peak periods, “government has a responsibility to perform its due diligence before selecting one company over another.”

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