Alternate energy options for Saranac Lake?
Village considers opting residents into renewable program for electric
SARANAC LAKE — The village is considering joining a program that would let its residents and businesses purchase more renewable energy through their monthly bills.
The program is called a Community Choice Aggregation.
Essentially, by gathering — or aggregating — all the electricity users in the Saranac Lake community, the group would be able to purchase renewable power at a cheaper rate than alone.
All residents and small businesses who have a National Grid account already would be automatically opted in. They could choose to opt out at any time for no cost.
Climate Smart Communities Task Force Coordinator Erin Griffin called New York’s greenhouse gas reduction goals “ambitious, but also necessary.”
She said without reducing carbon emissions, local activities like Winter Carnival are in danger because of a changing climate getting warmer.
“CCA is one of the most high-impact actions that any community can do,” said.
New York is one of seven states allowing CCA agreements.
Adirondack North Country Association employee and renewable energy advocate Nancy Bernstein, who advised the village on this project, said a CCA allows a community to choose which energy industries it puts its dollars into. She said this is users exercising their “purchasing power.” She said if demand for renewable energies rises, the supply will rise to meet it. The CCA allows people to choose what energy industry they support.
There are a lot of steps that would need to be taken before a CCA could be approved.
The first would be for the village to pass a local law enabling a CCA agreement. The village board seemed open to holding a vote on this, but did not take any action at its Monday meeting.
If the law is passed the village would contract for free with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for a CCA administrator who would collect public comment and evaluate renewable energy proposals to see if their rates are comparable to National Grid’s.
The village board will have the final say on whether to accept the proposal.
Trustee Kelly Brunette asked if CCA energy would cost more than National Grid.
Bernstein, said it would hopefully not, but that until the village gets those proposals, they won’t know how much it will cost.
Village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski said the village would compare prices for 100% renewably sourced energy with its current National Grid mixed rates. The CCA contract would lock in a rate, instead of being variable, as it is now.
This could be good or bad because the price of that fixed rate fluctuates.
If the village could lock in a good rate, Bernstein said this could act as a “consumer protection” measure.
“Variable rates can be good when they go down, but when they start creeping up nobody’s going to be happy,” she said.
Rates are low now, she said, but she added that they always go up.
Konkoski said the village can wait for a good rate before agreeing, or it could agree to a mix renewable and non-renewable sources at a more affordable rate.
Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau wondered about how “sovereign citizens” would view this plan. A sovereign citizen, colloquially, is a person who does not believe the government’s laws apply to them. In this context, Rabideau was referring more to people who want to make decisions for themselves, rather than allowing the government to.
“Aggregation kind of just adds another choice,” Konkoski said. “It doesn’t take away any choices from a customer.”
Bernstein said currently, the state is making that choice.
“Would you rather have New York state, Albany, whoever, make a decision about who is your electricity supplier? They choose the public utility map,” she said. “Or would you rather have your local government, who you elect, your neighbors, decide for you? … You’re just replacing who is making the decision. … You’re taking that right back from New York state, because right now, New York state tells you who your electrical supplier is going to be.”
Rabideau said making people need to opt out could be seen as making a decision for them, and he worried about blow-back.
What would change?
Currently, electricity bills include costs for both supply and delivery.
National Grid supplies a mixture of renewable and non-renewable sources — including coal, hydro and nuclear. It does not produce these energies, though. It purchases them from other producers.
On Tuesday, the New York Independent System Operator’s real-time dashboard, which tracks energy usage in the state, was showing that a little over 20% of the state’s energy was coming from renewable sources like wind and hydro. Around 18% was coming from nuclear power and the rest from fossil fuels.
National Grid does the delivery, too, maintaining the power lines and other infrastructure to do so.
The CCA would allow Saranac Lake residents to choose a different energy supplier.
National Grid would still deliver electricity and maintain its infrastructure, but it would not sell electricity to those who opt in to CCA.
People would still pay their bills to National Grid and get their electricity through National Grid lines, but the electricity passing through those lines would be purchased from different companies offering more renewable energy sources.
New York has set National Grid as the default delivery company for the mix of energy sources, so it is the most common supplier in the area. Konkoski said some people currently purchase their electricity from third-party suppliers or opt into community solar or hydro programs.
People would still be able to do this if the CCA is approved.
Bernstein said there are already many CCAs in New York — some have existed for around 20 years — but there are not many in the North County yet. She said there is one in Chazy and Black Brook is working on one.