New Paltz moves forward with plan to make renewable electricity the default choice for residents

A number of people attended the public hearing for a law enabling community choice aggregation (CCA) in the Town of New Paltz, but council members seemed well convinced of the merits regardless. The law opens the door to the default electricity provider in New Paltz to be changed from Central Hudson to some other company, under terms which would be negotiated by an administrator to be selected from a list of two. The right to choose a different supplier would be retained by all ratepayers, while power delivery would remain a Central Hudson function. More than one person testifying referenced the most recent United Nations report on climate change, and speakers largely presumed that whatever supplier is selected through this process would be providing energy from renewable sources such as solar and hydro power generation.

Michele Zipp spoke about how this scheme allows people with low incomes to participate in efforts to green the energy grid. Environmentalism comes at a cost, such as purchasing solar panels or the higher cost of organic foods. That can be a barrier, but this kind of aggregation allows anyone with an electricity account to participate simply by paying the bill. There is a “really low opt-out rate” when CCAs are implemented, she added, which bolsters the buying power which can be utilized to negotiate a better price.

In her testimony, Laura Deney said that such a switch could have as much impact on the community’s carbon footprint as replacing half a million streetlight bulbs with LEDs. She reminded board members that whichever administrator they ultimately select will be required under state law to conduct a campaign of outreach and education in the community. In addition, these negotiated contracts prevent billing spikes created by sudden rate increases; in the alternative using the present default option — Central Hudson — means electricity is purchased at the market rate at any given time.

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Ingrid Haeckel framed this as a “win-win,” because in addition to rate stability and affordability, she also sees this as an avenue for reducing the carbon footprint of living and working in New Paltz. As with others, she noted the simple opt-out provision, which is similar to what’s available now by selecting a provider other than Central Hudson. When a CCA agreement is negotiated, it would result in that default option being changed while not impacting anyone who has already selected a different provider.

Calling the U.N. report “horrifying,” Liz Elkin echoed others by saying that this could be the “quickest way” to reduce greenhouse gases, and that while opting out is simple, “hopefully no one would want to.”

Simply by purchasing enough green energy to power New Paltz, noted Amy Kletter, would reduce demand for energy from fracked natural gas and “lift a burden off people who live here” so that they “feel less despairing” about the state of the environment and future of all life on the planet.

Residents spoke in favor of the law for about 25 minutes, but it took less than two for council members to decide to pass it. Town Supervisor Neil Bettez later explained that selecting the administrator is the next step, and that this will likely be done in concert with the village process to allow for all residents by bargain as a single unit.

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