Westchester Power Program Achieves Clean Energy Goals

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by Robert Kimmel

Customers within Irvington and Tarrytown will receive electric power bills beginning this month that reflect their villages’ entry into Westchester Power’s program to boost the production of renewable, clean energy. Of the 112,000 customers eligible for participation within 20 Westchester municipalities in the program, only some 6.3% opted out of the overall plan, according to Leo Wiegman, Executive Director of Sustainable Westchester, the organization that set up the local program.

A 15% opt-out rate had been anticipated so the lower figure was fairly well received, Wiegman told a forum sponsored by The Hudson Independent last month at Warner Library. Irvington and Tarrytown were among the 17 municipalities that chose to offer their residents the clean power option rather than the basic power supply generated by fossil fuel, such as coal and oil.

“The 70,000 customers who will be supplied with renewable energy credits will be the single largest residential purchase of clean power within New York State,” Wiegman said.

Consumers using ConEd as their electric power supplier were automatically switched into the program, known generically as Consumer Choice Aggregation. An estimated 35,000 residential and small businesses using other Energy Supply Companies, (ESCOs), were excluded, but can opt into the program, after leaving those ESCOs. “We frequently get calls from those folks; their ESCO contracts are ending and they like our price better,” Wiegman noted.

“Because we got a rate better than our benchmark rate, we went back to the municipalities and gave them two choices, both of which would be better than the benchmark rate, which we did not expect,” Wiegman said.

The energy supply negotiated by Westchester Power is at a fixed rate, that it states is “lower than the average rate you paid for basic utility supply in 2015.” The renewable energy rate is slightly higher than that for the basic electric supply. Renewable energy is generated from solar, wind and water sources. Wiegman said that those opting out of the renewable rate for basic supply numbered only in the low hundreds. Basic supply averages from $1 to $2 less monthly than the renewable power rate. The present fixed rates will continue through 2018.

ConEd, as it does for every ESCO, continues to transmit all the power through its infrastructure, send the utility bills to consumers, and repair its lines. Westchester Power negotiated the new supply costs with Con Ed Solutions, an ESCO that is a subsidiary of ConEd. The lower costs are secured by the large scale aggregation of consumers to bolster buying power through volume purchases.

Purchase of clean energy translates into what are called Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) which are incentives for the development nationally of more energy produced through solar, wind and hydropower sources, rather than coal, oil and gas, providing environmental benefits.

The selection of renewable energy through Westchester Power has no immediate impact on the composition of the electric supply fed into local households or businesses through the ConEd power grid, according to Glenn Weinberg, Interim Program Director of Westchester Power. “It sends market signals back into the power market that there is a greater demand for renewable energy, so over time, that is going to make greater impact on the new generators that are built, the renewable energy generators,” he said. “The old, dirty, and inefficient fossil power plants are closed down.”

Fossil fuels generate greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, which most scientists believe is a heavy contributor to climate change and global warming, Wiegman asserted that with the majority of communities opting for renewable energy “it sends a clear message that there is a strong appetite for it,” and that “it will encourage more communities to build more solar here locally and benefit from it directly by lowering the rates.”

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