A program that has Westchester County municipalities team up to buy electricity in bulk — and boost the use of renewable energy along the way — has the OK from the state to continue to its next phase.
The New York Public Service Commission voted in November to renew Sustainable Westchester’s Community Choice Aggregation program. The program, which operates under the name Westchester Power, was the first of its kind in New York when it launched in 2016. As the first round of power-buying contracts is set to expire, the state needed to sign off on Westchester Power’s second round of contracts.
As noted by Dan Welsh, executive director of Westchester Power, the renewal marks another first-in-New York accomplishment for the organization.
“We’re still the only such program that actually is in operation in the state,” Welsh said. “This is the pilot program, so this will be the first time any CCA program has been renewed in the state as well.”
Under the first iteration of the program, 20 member municipalities in the county signed onto a power-buying agreement that provided electricity at a lower fixed rate for two years. Westchester Power facilitated two separate contracts. One was for the homes and businesses within Consolidated Edison Inc. service territory in the county, the other for homes and businesses in the northern part of the county serviced by New York State Electric and Gas Corp.
Municipalities in the Westchester Power program can choose between two power supply sources: a lower-cost basic energy supply, or a slightly more expensive “green” supply that offsets its usage with the purchase of 100 percent renewable energy credits. In the first contract phase, 14 municipalities opted for the renewable supply.
Residents and businesses in the Westchester Power municipalities were automatically enrolled in the program in 2016. However, they had the option to individually opt out and continue with their previous suppliers, or to “opt up” for a 100 percent renewable power option.
As those contracts expire, the Public Service Commission approved an implementation plan for the next round of power purchasing agreements at its November meeting.
“This is an affirmation that yes, the pilot has proceeded as we hoped and let’s keep going,” Welsh said.
For the Con Ed territories, the supplier remains the same. Constellation NewEnergy handled the first contract to supply the service territory communities, and will continue to under a new contract. The contract for the NYSEG territory is being finalized before going out for bid.
Community choice aggregation programs are already established in states such as California, Illinois and Massachusetts, but Westchester Power is still the lone program in New York. The state Public Service Commission has approved three other such programs for operation in New York, but none are currently active.
New York state energy officials established the community choice aggregation program with three central goals: cost savings, advancing sustainability efforts and increasing customer access and engagement in energy decision-making.
In its report to the state PSC, Westchester Power officials noted that the program’s coverage area includes about 100,000 homes and businesses in the county.
By providing a steady rate, the contracts have saved Westchester Power participants $12 million total, the organization calculated. The Public Service Commission estimates each user in the CCA saved about 10 percent on their electricity costs over the length of the contract, compared to basic market rates.
The renewable energy credits purchased through the green supply, meanwhile, represented 300,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided, Westchester Power reported.
The organization launched with 20 communities. One community (Croton-on-Hudson) has joined since then and three more (Pound Ridge, Ardsley and Sleepy Hollow) are in the process of joining.
The cities of Rye and Peekskill are expected to join this year.
“The municipalities that were in wait-and-see mode are now convinced that this is a real thing,” Welsh said. “The renewal provided more evidence for that.”
And while originally there were the six municipalities that opted for the basic supply over the green supply, that number has dwindled to just one for the next contract period. Welsh credited that to growing recognition that the CCA can do more than just save municipalities money on energy costs.
“The savings were the foot in the door. We had to be financially viable,” Welsh said. “But I think after one round here, the communities are really picking up on the amazing impact we can have on the greenhouse gas side of things.”
The new contract from Constellation NewEnergy will rely on hydropower energy credits from New York sources to provide the green energy option, Welsh said. The company previously offset its green supply by purchasing national wind credits.
Westchester Power is active in producing renewable energy within Westchester County as well. In 2017, the organization launched a countywide initiative called “emPowering Green Energy,” focused on introducing new types of renewable energy production to Westchester.
In 2018, the group launched its first community solar installation in Westchester: a 130-kilowatt system on a factory roof in Montrose. Community solar refers to solar installations that don’t have a single user, such as a homeowner or landlord. Instead, multiple customers can pay to subscribe to the energy credits from the solar array’s power production, offsetting their individual electricity bills.
The projects open up solar power to people who can’t develop such systems of their own, such as renters or homeowners with rooftops not suited for panels.
About 27 families signed up to purchase the energy credits from the company’s pilot community solar program, Welsh said. Now, the goal is to keep the solar coming.
“We expect to be able to announce a couple new projects soon,” Welsh said. “The next thing is to convince building owners that this is a great way to be part of a community energy program.”
Westchester Power municipalities:
Town of Bedford;
Town of Greenburgh;
Town of Lewisboro;
Town of Mamaroneck;
Town of New Castle;
Town of North Salem;
Town of Ossining;
Town of Somers;
Village of Croton-on-Hudson;
Village of Hastings-on-Hudson;
Village of Irvington;
Village of Larchmont;
Village of Mamaroneck;
Village of Mount Kisco;
Village of Ossining;
Village of Pelham;
Village of Pleasantville;
Village of Rye Brook;
Village of Tarrytown;
City of New Rochelle;
City of White Plains.
Approved to enroll:
Town of Pound Ridge
Village of Ardsley
Village of Sleepy Hollow