The Niskayuna Town Board has taken the first step toward enrollment in a community choice aggregation program, which would allow bulk purchase of energy.
The board on Tuesday voted unanimously to enact a local law to amend the town code, adding a new chapter titled "Community Choice Aggregation Program."
Board members also voted unanimously to increase the boundaries of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority service district to include the entire town -- a move expected to help the town deal with abandoned houses that have fallen into disrepair.
For power, the state Public Service Commission has authorized local governments to aggregate utility customers for energy supply. Strength in numbers, say aggregation proponents, leads to lower energy pricing for all.
With the vote -- 4-0, with Councilman John Della Ratta absent -- the process to join a CCA begins.
"This is enabling legislation so we are able to join a CCA," said Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed during the meeting. "It doesn't mean that tomorrow we're going to be rolling this out. There's still a considerable amount of meetings we're going to be having to, A -- choose an administrator and, B -- evaluate where we're going to go with it, which CCA we're going to choose because there are several.
"So there are still many more meetings to be had, many more discussions to be had," Syed added. "But that being said, I think it's an important step in the town and I think it's going to be positive."
There will also be another resolution before the Town Board: Syed said a resolution will be required to allow the town to engage a program administrator.
Louise Gava, a project leader for Ithaca-based Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance (MEGA) -- which administers community choice aggregations (CCAs) -- outlined program benefits to board members and members of the public at July's board meeting.
"Community choice aggregation allows local governments to aggregate the electricity and natural gas accounts of your residents and small businesses within your jurisdiction," Gava said. "So at the end of the day, this is a bulk purchasing program to meet the needs that you set out."
Understanding bulk purchase plans, Gava also said, is one way to understand a CCA.
"When you use that term, people get it," she said. "Most people have some kind of bulk-buying club and they get the idea that an individual unit gets less expensive when you buy a lot of units at a time."
Councilwoman Lisa Weber is for the project.
"It's been something we've been working toward for the past couple years," she said. "We're excited about the potential to offer residents energy-efficient and economically friendly energy. We're really excited and ready to go."
Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw said the board will continue to listen to comments from the public on the project.
One town resident, Leslie Gold, has already heard enough. She spoke against the CCA.
"The plan, since it's opt-out, relies on people not catching on to the fact they have the right to get out of it," Gold said. "I know some people wonder why anybody would be opposed. Well, not all forms of alternate energy are really that clean -- at least, not if you like birds. The wind facilities are killing massive numbers. I don't want energy that comes from that -- real simple."
Gava said the way a CCA works, all automatically eligible customers are participating unless they opt out. Everyone is in unless they choose to opt out.
Jeff Corbin, a member of the group Capital District Community Energy -- formed to explore issues surrounding the creation of a CCA, interview potential CCA Administrators and communicate with potential members of a future energy-buying group -- spoke in favor.
"I'm really excited Niskayuna is poised to join several other cities and towns in our region to establish this aggregation," he said. "Frankly, there is no other thing that Niskayuna and our residents can be part of that would do more to combat climate change, outside of federal legislation, than to form a clean energy CCA," he said.
An increased Metroplex presence required the town to adopt and enact a local law authoring the boundary increase. The law came with a condition: "The Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority is subject to the zoning ordinance of the Town of Niskayuna, and all rules, regulations, ordinances of the Town of Niskayuna."
Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen appeared at the board's July meeting, at the board's invitation, and discussed how Metroplex can help. Now that the agencies boundaries include the entire town, Metroplex can provide financial help to fix or demolish so-called zombie properties.
Town resident Lorene Zabin said she considers the "zombie" designation "extremely insulting" for the town.
"I don't think that really befits Niskayuna," she said, adding there was once a time when the town handled its own problems.
"When I was involved in Town Hall, which was many years ago, I can't remember neighbors complaining they couldn't have a cook-out or a party or whatever because somebody's grass was bothering them," said Zabin, a former deputy supervisor.
She said town employees took care of the grass and broken windows. Money invested for the work was reimbursed, she said, when the property sold.
"I thought that was a really good idea," Zabin said. "It was a way of handling things immediately and not letting it get to be to this zombie condition."
Zabin said she was concerned a more powerful Metroplex would have greater, bigger, more commercial plans for the town.
Syed believes there is no cause for concern. She said the condition placed in the law said Metroplex must play by all town rules, regulations and ordinances.
"Residents need not be concerned they're going to change any of the residential character of the town," Syed said. "Metroplex as an authority, they understand each municipality is different. I know Ray Gillen is a consumate professional, everything he's done for downtown Schenectady, just how successful he's been and Metroplex has been.
"He understands Niskayuna," Syed said, "he understands our community and he understands we take a lot of pride in the residential character of our town. I don't think anyone needs to be worried about that."
McGraw said she proposed an expansion of the Metroplex service territory so the town will be able to use the combined resources of the town, the Land Bank and Metroplex.
"The team is currently working on a Van Antwerp property which has negatively impacted property values in nearby homes," she said on Wednesday. "While I’ve been working on this for a while, our recent action will also help us as we look at next steps for SI. That property was not in the original Metroplex service territory. Now we will have additional resources at our disposal as we move forward."
SI Group recently announced plans to leave its longtime headquarters on Balltown Road and relocate to another site in the Capital Region.
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]