Lawsuit ongoing with previous electric supplier
Eight months after its energy supplier defaulted on a contract, the company that administered a program through which Highlands municipalities bought clean electricity for residents at a fixed price is relaunching the project — but without Beacon.
More than 23,000 households and businesses in 10 municipalities, including Beacon, Cold Spring, Nelsonville and Philipstown, benefited from fixed rates as members of what is known as community choice aggregation (CCA) — a program that buys energy “in bulk,” which often allows it to secure better rates.
Members of the CCA, known as Hudson Valley Community Power, had been receiving electricity generated from renewable sources for 6.6 cents per kilowatt-hour for households and 7.1 cents for businesses.
When compared to Central Hudson’s variable rate, members of the collective saved more than $7 million and avoided 25,560 metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in the first year of the program, according to Joule Community Power, the company that administered the CCA.
That was until last summer, when Columbia Utilities backed out of a three-year agreement to supply electricity to the CCA. Columbia’s withdrawal meant that residents and businesses who didn’t earlier opt out of the program were transferred back to Central Hudson, where the price for electricity fluctuated from less than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour in June to 17 cents per kilowatt-hour in October.
Joule expects to restart the program, again called Hudson Valley Community Power, by June, CEO Jessica Stromback said on Tuesday (March 14). This time, the collective will purchase clean energy on behalf of 33 municipalities, including Philipstown, Cold Spring, Nelsonville and 10 others in the Hudson Valley.
The program will work the same as in the past, with residents and business owners automatically enrolled. Customers’ electricity will continue to be distributed through Central Hudson, which will also handle billing.
Letters will be sent in May to residents, giving them the opportunity to opt out.
That framework contributed to Beacon’s decision not to join the relaunched program. City Administrator Chris White said he received many complaints from residents upset that the city had joined the CCA on their behalf.
In addition, after being approached by Joule at the end of 2022, White said city officials were unsure whether the company would be able to find a fixed-rate supplier who could beat Central Hudson’s variable rate, given ongoing global instability. “It’s hard to bet on anything right now,” he said.
Beacon hopes to soon explore a “community-distributed generation” model, which is awaiting approval from the state Public Service Commission, White said.
That model would allow residents to “subscribe” to locally generated renewable energy, such as electricity produced by a solar farm. Subscribers would receive credits from Central Hudson in the form of a discount on their bill.
Joule says it plans to be more cautious when it relaunches Hudson Valley Community Power. Stromback said that its criteria for electricity providers has become stricter to keep what happened last year from happening again.
“We have significantly increased the requirements around who we accept bids from,” Stromback said. The stress-test for a new electric supplier “is whether they can handle a wartime situation,” she said, referring to Russia’s invasion last year of Ukraine, which caused global energy prices to soar.
Joule, along with Beacon and seven other municipalities, sued Columbia Utilities in June in state court in Ulster County. It alleged that, by defaulting on the agreement, Columbia “irreparably” damaged the CCA program (Hudson Valley Community Power was the second one created in the state) and New York’s climate goals, and also damaged the credibility of municipal officials who had joined the collective on behalf of their constituents.
“This was not easy,” the lawsuit notes. “These [participating] communities are largely skeptical of state programs related to energy, fearing the bureaucratic problems that they tend to bring, as well as the potential effects on the cost of energy.”
Joule is asking the court to prohibit Columbia from transferring its assets to third parties, and for monetary damages to compensate customers for losses that arose from the breach of the agreement.
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