Fears that joining a consortium of towns and villages to purchase electricity in bulk and reduce prices while purchasing energy produced by “green” technology could lead to severe outages and cost spikes such as occurred recently in Texas are unrealistic, Marcus “Skip” Arthur told the Saugerties Village Board on Monday, April 19.
At the April 5 Village Board meeting, the village Special Projects Coordinator Alex Wade warned that joining the Joule consortium of Ulster County towns and villages could leave the village vulnerable to massive price hikes should the electrical supply fail. Arthur, during a public hearing on a proposal, suggested that the village pass a local law allowing Joule Energy to disseminate information about its proposal to negotiate electricity prices on a multi-municipality basis, using the large customer base to negotiate lower prices. Later in the meeting, the trustees voted in favor of the local law.
Texas does not connect its electricity grid to a regional system, which would have been able to draw power from nearby states, leaving it vulnerable. Arthur said his research showed that every form of power — coal, gas, wind and solar was affected by the freak cold weather that gripped the state, causing the outages. “It was an overall failure of the whole system, not just renewables,” he said. “New York is not like that; we’re connected to a national grid, and there are other backups.”
In addition, the people who had rate agreements did not see the spike in prices that affected those who did not have such agreements, Arthur said. In fact, what happened in Texas is an argument for CCA[Community Choice Aggregation], because they have a guaranteed rate for a specified period and the rate can’t be raised.
In general, electricity suppliers don’t guarantee a stable rate; the rate fluctuates with supply and demand. Opponents of CCA systems argue that should the commercial wholesale rate for electricity fall, the commercial rate could fall below the CCA’s fixed rate.
Mayor Bill Murphy said Arthur had helped the board with clear explanations of the choices involved. “You have certainly educated me over the past few months,” he said. “I appreciate your providing the board with as much information as possible.”
Elizabeth Shafer, also a village resident, said the board should move fairly quickly because “this is coming into effect quite soon,” a reference to the formation of a consortium of municipalities to create a new group of municipal electricity purchasers.
Mary O’Donnell, the coordinator of the Climate Smart Task Force, said one advantage of the program is that power suppliers like Joule are overseen by the state Public Service Commission, which helps to guarantee that they will live up to their promises. “It promises greater consumer protection; that’s why the Climate Task Force has endorsed this.”
Trustee Jeff Helmuth asked whether a resident selling his house would have to find a buyer who would agree to join the program. Arthur said the power source is not attached to the house, as are solar panels. “It’s tied to your Central Hudson bill. There was an arrangement where people had solar on their roof, but this is nothing like that. It’s done through your Central Hudson bill and there’s no tie to ownership at all.”
Murphy said he does not like the idea of having residents be enrolled in the program unless they opt out, but it would not be fair to deny them the information. If the village residents support CCA, then it should go forward. If not, there’s no commitment to join it, but the village people should make that choice.
Trustee Vincent Buono said he has contacted officials in other Ulster County towns that have been members of a Joule consortium for the past two years. Both are in favor of the program and will join the next round when their current contracts expire.
“According to my research, Joule is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau; they have eleven complaints,” Helmuth said. O’Donnell responded that Joule has several entities, and these cases may have involved branches of the company unrelated to their power provision. “That [problems] has not been our experience,” O’Donnell said.
Trustee Vince Buono said he has spoken to three of the municipalities that have contracted with Joule, and they are happy with the result. “I have to agree with Skip and [O’Donnell]; everything they said has been corroborated by these references. The Town of New Paltz, ‘very happy with Joule.’ As you know New Paltz is very progressive. They are more concerned with the green energy part of it.” The Town of Clinton, “again very pleased with Joule. Joule has organized seminars through the year, three or four, open to the public. The supervisor is very intimate with this program. He’s consulted his attorney, his insurance company, and he’s very happy. In fact they will renew their contract.” Marbletown’s supervisor was also “very pleased’ with Joule, Buono said. Over all, the responses from the three towns “were very positive.”