Bulk energy purchasing group hopes to make a comeback
Hudson Valley Community Power is back, hoping to reenlist municipalities and residents in a program to provide electricity at competitive rates using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
Jessica Stromback, the CEO of Joule Community Power, addressed the Cold Spring Village Board at its Wednesday (Nov. 16) meeting.
Joule had administered a “community choice aggregation” that included Cold Spring, Philipstown, Beacon and seven other municipalities. But in July, the firm that provided the energy, Columbia Utilities, backed out of its three-year, fixed-rate contract, prompting Cold Spring, Philipstown, Beacon and other municipalities to sue Columbia for breach of contract.
On Wednesday, Stromback said local residents had realized considerable savings at the CCA’s fixed rates when electricity costs spiked because of factors such as the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Town of Philipstown Board Member Jason Angell, who had supported the development of the CCA, confirmed that recently, commenting that some local residents saved as much as $200 a month after the rates charged by Central Hudson soared. CCA participants were still billed through Central Hudson, but at lower rates.
Stromback said that if Cold Spring reenlists in the program, residents will be notified of price adjustments each quarter and will be able to opt out at any time.
Asked by Mayor Kathleen Foley if the current billing problems at Central Hudson are related to the collapse of the agreement with Columbia Utilities, Stromback said, “Central Hudson is misbilling everyone who isn’t in their standard program, all the solar developers and everyone in a CCA.”
It isn’t just Central Hudson, she said. “Utilities across New York State are having similar issues,” skipping billings and sending bills in batches. “Central Hudson is under a lot of pressure to fix it; it will get fixed,” she said.
The board made no decision whether to rejoin the CCA program. “We need to gather information about the options that are available before making a commitment,” Foley said, adding that the board will seek feedback from residents.
Stromback’s presentation marks the beginning of a 60-day public education period that will include information on the village website, public outreach meetings and use of social media and local press coverage.
After the public education period, Joule will issue requests for proposals seeking competitive bids for two models for the bulk purchase of electricity.
Stromback said the Village Board can choose whether to rejoin the program and which of the two options best suits its needs once bids are known.
She added that CCAs are the biggest purchaser of electricity from renewable sources in New York state, “and this is a big enough CCA that we will get good pricing.”
Foley said when Cold Spring joined the CCA initially, opting in on behalf of all residents was controversial, causing some to question why the Village Board should decide how residents purchase their electricity.
“It allows the group purchase of power and gets residents a significantly better deal,” Stromback said. “You don’t have the purchasing power when you choose as an individual.”
She said the CCA enables a municipality “to protect residents from what is now a really crazy system, with prices all over the place.”
However, she noted that the CCA could not guarantee a lower price all the time. “It would guarantee that price changes are more stable and fairer,” she said. “But we do not guarantee continuous savings.”
In an email on Thursday (Nov.17), Foley told The Current, “the unpredictable, astronomical Central Hudson rates we’re seeing demonstrate that buying power in the hands of communities is economically beneficial; the CCA model, overall, is smart for our wallets and the environment.”
She said the board has asked Joule to show how it will structure the CCA “so we don’t end up again where we are now.”
The board held a nearly two-hour discussion on implementing the village parking plan, setting the stage for a workshop scheduled for Nov. 30.
On Thursday, Foley wrote that public comment will be sought after that workshop.
“We’re going to learn a great deal as it is implemented,” she said. “We’re in good shape for [that to happen in] the later spring.”
Wind and solar is well meaning but, given present technology, a pipe dream. Wait 20 years and then get serious about it, when it becomes meaningful.
In this article, you report that Jessica Stromback, the CEO of Joule Community Power, told the Cold Spring Village Board that Central Hudson is “misbilling everyone who isn’t in their standard program, all the solar developers and everyone in a CCA.”
That is inaccurate. Following the launch of Central Hudson’s new customer information system last year, issues were experienced that resulted in billing delays for some customers and the need to issue revised bills to certain customers, in a number of cases multiple times. Central Hudson acknowledges that these billing issues have caused stress and inconvenience for impacted customers and for that, we are deeply apologetic. We have devoted significant resources to resolving all technical issues associated with the new billing system.
On very short notice, we were directed to transfer Columbia Utilities’ 23,000 customers to Central Hudson, and we have successfully done so for nearly all of those customers — those returned customers have already received updated bills. We expect to complete this process for the remaining few within the coming days. With Columbia customers returned, all of Central Hudson’s customers, including solar developers and CCA customers, are being currently and accurately billed.
If you believe you have received an inaccurate bill, please call 845-452-2700 so that we can discuss it, investigate and, if it is inaccurate, correct it.
Campagiorni is the senior vice president of customer services and gas operations at Central Hudson.
In his comment, Campagiorni wrote that “all of Central Hudson’s customers, including solar developers and CCA [Community Choice Aggregation] customers, are being currently and accurately billed.”
Since I am a community-solar customer and I am not being correctly billed, that statement is incorrect. I tried to contact Central Hudson at the phone number included in the letter and gave up after an hour on hold. I also tried the website’s chat feature, but that is clearly driven by an ineffectual artificial intelligence with inadequate human intervention. I sent an email (the website interface does not allow you to attach documents) and received a cut-and-paste response that did not address what I wrote, instead describing what delivery costs are and how they vary.
In my case, I have not paid Central Hudson anything for nine months for delivery and would like to pay them for that service. My community-solar provider, Nexamp, is being provided incorrect information by Central Hudson, which is telling Nexamp that the entire bill is the supply cost that Nexamp should bill me for. I am credited that amount with Central Hudson, so Central Hudson never gets paid for its delivery costs and my invoices are zero.
In my experience, Central Hudson customer service for billing is abjectly bad. I hope that Mr. Campagiorni sees this and addresses the deficiencies of the chat and email interfaces because the phone number provided was a waste of time.