East Hampton Puts New Electricity Purchasing Approach On Table With An Eye Toward Renewables

A Community Choice Aggregation program could result in lower electricity rates for customers.

East Hampton is officially kicking off its long talked-about effort to make buying electricity from renewable sources available to its residents and add its weight to the broader effort to boost renewable energy production throughout New York State.

The Town Board has proposed a local law that would give it the option of joining a Community Choice Aggregation program, or CCA, that would allow the town and its residents to choose where their millions in electricity and gas dollars are spent.

Through a CCA, which are already being used by five municipalities, the town would be able to set up an electricity and gas purchasing plan that would select the source of the energy commodities it wishes to buy power from.

The programs have been hailed as a major step in spurring the broader development of renewable power sources and lowering power rates from them by putting the power of the free market back in the hands of municipalities and homeowners who have long had their energy supply sources dictated to them by power companies that still relay on aging fossil-fuel generators.

The CCA program was created by the state in 2016, but the Long Island Power Authority only made it possible for Long Island towns to set up a CCA program as of last month. Southampton Town has already approved the enabling legislation. East Hampton is now considering the same and has contracted with a third-party administrator to begin drafting its power purchasing strategy.

Through the CCA, the town could set up a plan that demands that all or a given portion of its power supply be generated solely by renewable resources like wind or solar power. The CCA would be organized through a third-party energy service company that organizes the sale of electricity from various sources throughout the region, which would determine the rates town residents would pay for the source of the energy it has chosen.

Renewable energy advocates have said that the more municipalities that create CCAs and join together in demanding more renewable-source energy, the more the rates for such electricity will come down.

During a public discussion of the proposal last Thursday, town officials noted that choosing the source of the power supply does not precisely mean the actual power consumed by the town is generated only from that source. Rather, it bases the town’s power rates on the cost of that source’s generation and supply, which is then imported into the overall grid from which East Hampton and the rest of New York State draws.

“The energy is produced in various locations, and is put into the grid. And what this does, is it allows the CCA to specify what type of energy you want to purchase on behalf of your customers and that grows that energy market,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said. The actual electrons you get could be generated from any other sources, but you are transitioning that energy onto the grid that may not be there otherwise.”

In accordance with the CCA rules, any town resident would be able to individually opt out of the CCA power plan the town sets up and continue using the power generated by the power plants that the Long Island Power Authority and PSEG-Long Island choose.
All customers would still have to pay the delivery fees from PSEG, since the utility owns and operates the power lines across the island.

“A CCA for East Hampton would mean choice — it means that local residents would be able to choose to have more renewable energy in our power supply,” East Hampton Town Energy Sustainability Committee Chairwoman Lena Tabori told board members on Thursday, reading from a letter by committee member Francesca Rheannon. “That is making our town, out country, out planet cleaner. For those who oppose the CCA … they seek to take away the choice for the rest of us who want to choose cleaner energy. There is no downside to the town having more control over its energy.”

If the enabling legislation is adopted — most members of the Town Board have expressed support for the idea — the town would then look into contracting with an administrator, or hiring one, to help set up and negotiate the power purchase agreements.

The Town Board will not vote on the approval of the CCA until it is able to hold an in-person public hearing when coronavirus protocols against public gatherings are lifted.

East Hampton Town officials pledged in 2015 to make all of the town government’s energy from renewable sources by 2020 — a goal it ultimately had to backtrack — and for all of the town’s power supply to come from renewables by 2030.