In mid-July, Hudson Valley Community Power (HVCP) customers were returned to Central Hudson electricity service due to a default by the program’s energy supplier Columbia Utilities Power, LLC. Among the local communities who joined the fixed-rate 100 percent renewable energy Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program include Saugerties, New Paltz, Red Hook and Marbletown.
A CCA allows communities to pool electricity demand by leveraging their collective buying power in an effort to secure energy rates that are both competitively priced and contractually stable. HVCP is a CCA partnership between Joule Community Power, which serves as the program administrator; and Hudson Valley Energy, the local program manager. In the year since joining the CCA, participants have saved over $8 million through the fixed electricity supply rate, an estimated $300-$400 per household.
Residents participating in the CCA were returned to Central Hudson on Tuesday, July 19 with no interruption of service. The move followed Columbia Utilities being declared in default one week earlier when the company failed to comply with the requirements of the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), which is responsible for operating the state’s bulk electricity grid.
In early June, Joule and participating municipalities like the Town of Saugerties commenced a lawsuit against Columbia in Ulster County for breach of contract, and on Tuesday, June 7, the Court granted the request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting transfer of customers back to Central Hudson, an order that lasted just over a month.
On Tuesday, July 26, the New York Department of Public Service Office of Investigations and Enforcement submitted a letter to the court indicating that “[DPS] has initiated an independent administrative investigation into the actions of Columbia and its officers, agents and employees” to investigate why Columbia defaulted on its obligations to the municipalities and the NYISO, citing questions about Columbia’s finances and underlying energy supply contracts as reasons for the investigation.
“We are…very disappointed that Columbia will not continue to honor its obligations and promises to its customers and communities,” said Jessica Stromback, CEO of Joule, in a July 28 press release.“We are very encouraged to learn that the State Department of Public Service (DPS) has officially launched an investigation into Columbia’s actions. The public deserves answers about why Columbia dropped them. We’re grateful that the DPS is now demanding those answers. We will also continue to demand answers in our existing court case.”
Last week, Saugerties Town Supervisor Fred Costello said he supported the lawsuit against Columbia.
“We are not giving up our fight to hold Columbia’s feet to the fire,” he said.“But it’s becoming more difficult to be optimistic. I think we’re going to be successful in court, but the likelihood of getting a judgment or a favorable settlement is in question. We might just get an acknowledgement that we were right and they were wrong, but that doesn’t help the residents who’ve been part of the program.”
Costello said that Saugerties is among the municipalities for whom Joule is seeking another contract in the energy market, and there are other options available for those who don’t wish to stick with Central Hudson.
“When we get the contract back, people can make the calculation if that contract is appealing to them or not,” Costello said. “In the meantime, residents who have been part of the CCA have the opportunity to go into the energy markets on their own and try to capture something that they feel is good for them. And there’s a number of renewable opportunities that exist.”
Mary O’Donnell, coordinator for the Saugerties Climate Smart Task Force, said she hopes local residents will continue to take advantage of CCA opportunities in the future.
“CCA is an important environmental program because it offers homeowners and small business owners 100 percent renewable energy from wind, solar or hydropower generated in New York State,” O’Donnell said.“It was estimated the Town of Saugerties would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 90,000 metric tons over the 34 months that the program would be in effect.”
O’Donnell also touted the CCA program as good for energy consumers who are wary of the sliding cost scale found through traditional utility suppliers like Central Hudson.
“Consumers who participate in a CCA receive a fixed rate for their electricity supply that helps families with budgeting for their expenses,” she said.
Costello agreed the CCA program, when it worked as intended, was good for both the environments and people’s bank accounts.
“That’s one of those rare occasions where you can have your cake and eat it too,” he said.
But will participants in the CCA program that lasted just a year want to join up again, or is there any cynicism about how the arrangement through Columbia Utilities ended?
“I’ve had both conversations and I see the argument for both,” Costello said. “We had a little over a year of success with the program, so there’s experience and evidence that the program works. But we’re having that conversation in context that the program is likely to collapse because the provider that gave us the contract is probably not going to exist shortly, and I think for some folks there may be skepticism to get back into the program.”
But Costello said he hopes participants will consider the good that came from the CCA, whether they join up again or not.
“We avoided those steep (pricing) fluctuations that happened at the early part of this year,” Costello said. “So our experience isn’t ending well, but it was a good ride.”