Donation given to Family from community solar sign-ups

Neil Bettez, Michael Berg, Ivan Echenique, Jessica Stromback and Mike Gordon. (Photo by Terence P Ward)

Representatives of Joule Community Power presented a check for $2300 to Family of New Paltz director Ivan Echenique and Michael Berg, executive director of parent organization Family of Woodstock, at a private event Thursday, August 13. The money comes from 46 people signing up for community solar through the company. In turn, Berg hopes to use the money to obtain solar panels for the charity.

Joule Community Power is an administrator for community choice aggregation, a term that refers to the fact that the default choice of New Paltz people seeking an energy supplier on their own will now be sourced from renewable energy rather than being purchased on the spot market. Ratepayers who don’t have solar panels can agree to get solar power directly from a company with local solar farms. As well as the satisfaction of knowing that their electricity is coming from the sun, they also save ten percent on their monthly bill. Joule leaders partnered with a local provider to make signing up for solar power easier, and also agreed to donate $50 to Family of New Paltz for each household tapped into this program.

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Joule managing director Jessica Stromback provided a list of benefits for wrapping community solar in with community choice aggregation. It was a way, she said, to allow more people to tap into solar power, to reward “hardworking solar developers,” to grow the CCA in New Paltz, and to add to the triple bottom line of people, profits, and planet.

Current state law requires utility bills from two different companies, one from Central Hudson showing a credit for the cost of the electricity, and the other from the solar provider for 90 percent of that credit, resulting in that ten percent savings. Stromback anticipates that extra complexity to be resolved by state legislators this year, with ratepayers getting only a Central Hudson bill showing a ten percent discount once that’s resolved.

Berg spoke about 45 years of support from New Paltz town officials, who selected this charity to receive the money. Berg said that there have been plans in development to mount solar arrays on several Family properties, including some land in Saugerties, to ensure that all electricity will be free for the expected 30-year lifespan of the panels. This donation, he said, would be especially useful   during a time when it was challenging to raise money for capital projects.

Family of New Paltz program director Echenique spoke about a number of causes that might benefit from a cash infusion, such as one to help people get vehicles repaired so that they don’t lose employment due to a lack of reliable transportation. Among a wide variety of Family services are the oldest continually-operated crisis hotline in the country, food banks, and assistance with job-search preparation. 

The pandemic has resulted in some changes. The hotline now is routed to volunteers’ phones in their homes, for example, and in New Paltz the entire operation is run by Echenique and his assistant, Icilma Lewis, with no volunteer help at all. Clothing and household item donations have been suspended for the time being. 

As more people sign up for community solar, more money will flow from Joule to Family of New Paltz Neil Bettez, New Paltz’s town supervisor, said that the choice of a charity was not difficult. Some tax dollars have been budgeted for the organization for years, and this was a way to bolster that support.

Mike Gordon, CEO of Joule Community Power, said that tapping into community solar allowed his enterprise to remain powerful at a time when this coronavirus “attacks the fabric of the community.” “Remote net metering” was a way for people who didn’t have solar panels to benefit by using solar power. “You can help build a solar planet from your living room,” he said. 

The statewide goal is to produce 4000 megawatts of solar power in the next four years, which Gordon termed “a nice step one” in reducing emissions and creating jobs.