Independent power company seeks first 200 customers for renewable energy

Everett Smith recording output at Azure Mountain Power in St Regis Falls, seen in fall 2018. (Enterprise photo — Northern Power & Light)

SARANAC LAKE – A local power company is looking for 200 customers to buy into the first independent generator in their network.

Northern Power & Light, based in Saranac Lake, offers residential and small business customers anywhere in National Grid territory the option of getting their power from renewable, local sources at no change in cost.

This process is called Community Distributed Generation, part of a program by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to encourage investment and growth in green power production.

It works like this: in a typical market scenario, an independent power producer sells what they produce to National Grid wholesale. National Grid would then sell power to the customer at market rate.

Through NP&L, customers can buy shares in the electricity production of local generators. This share then produces a credit when bill time comes.

Azure Mountain Power in St Regis Falls, seen in fall 2018. (Provided photo — Northern Power & Light)

“It’s essentially making a choice,” said co-founder Emmet Smith. “You’re choosing to buy renewable power.”

“We tell the utility how much of the power is yours and the utility reduces your bill instead of paying the generator,” NP&L’s explainer video states. “Then you pay the generator directly through Northern Power & Light.”

Each month, NP&L will provide customers with information about how much electricity their share produced before they pay the generator. Any excess credit a customer’s share produces is banked on their utility account, and applied to future bills.

“Where Northern Power & Light comes in, is we do all the coordinating with the utility,” the video states. “And we handle the customer subscription and billing.”

By selling to a customer through NP&L, independent generators receive more revenue for the energy they produce. Smith said that this is process has been looked at by many independent generators, but hasn’t been pursued because it requires an entire shift in market strategy.

Instead of only producing and maintaining their power output, to make revenue using Community Distributed Generation a generator would have to advertise and reach a customer base, manage billing and subscriptions. Smith said that wouldn’t be feasible for a small producer, but networked through NP&L, it’s possible.

“The idea of NP&L is to be a unified, regional brand,” Smith said. “What distinguishes us is that that we’re localizing the value of electricity.”

The company was founded by Louise Gava, and Emmet and Ethan Smith. Emmet and Ethan’s father, Everett Smith, and their uncle, Matt Foley, built Azure Mountain Power, a 700 kilowatt hydroelectric generator in St Regis Falls, in the early 1990s.

This is the first generator partner that NP&L is seeking to fund.

AMP’s site on the St Regis River was first dammed in the 1880s by the Brooklyn Cooperage, a company that made sugar barrels from Adirondack timber. The generator produces electricity using two vertical shaft Leffel turbines and 2400-volt AC generators. According to the NP&L website, this machinery was originally built in 1917, and was rebuilt and installed at AMP in 1993.

The generator operates under state Department of Environment Conservation supervision, to protect river flow around the dam and stream ecology, including a downstream trout fishery.

According to NP&L, it has 25 percent of the AMP’s production allocated so far, but are trying to get to 100 percent before spring runoff. The company has plans to offer electricity from other facilities in the future, with generators lined up near Ausable and another in the Canton-Potsdam area.

“Cheap natural gas and subsidized wind farms have been driving wholesale electricity prices down for years.” said Everett Smith, co-owner of Azure Mountain Power in a press release. “But has your bill gone down? Nope.”

Power transactions used to be between a customer a local producer, like Paul Smith’s Electric Light & Co., Emmett said. Instead, he said, nowadays a customer’s dollars go overseas, while smaller power plants are forced to shut down.

“We want to give local generators a bigger share of the retail price,” Emmett said in a press release.

The company gained the approval to operate this way under 2017’s state Green Power Program. Customers can cancel for free with 60 days notice, according to the NP&L website. Alongside some residents, early customers include Paul Smith’s College, the ADK Riverside Tavern in St Regis Falls, The Village Mercantile and BluSeed Studios in Saranac Lake.

“The first thing we can do to support the local economy and local jobs is to buy from local businesses whenever possible,” said Melinda Little, co-founder of the Village Mercantile in a press release. “It’s great that we can now do that with electricity, and with no change in cost.”

Residents can sign up or find out more at www.npandl.com, or by calling 518-293-4075.

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