SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The City Council has approved a local law that will allow the city to negotiate electricity purchases on behalf of residents.
The Community Choice Aggregation law approved unanimously Tuesday night could be a tool for getting residential property owners in the city reduced prices for electricity, and for getting guarantees that electricity is coming from renewable sources. The city is the latest Capital Region community to endorse a CCA, a concept that has the support of state energy agencies and is regulated through the state.
Under the system, National Grid remains the provider of energy to a household, but the community negotiates the source of the electricity being provided through the National Grid distribution system. In general, the program is available only to residential customers.
"CCA's increase individual buying power through a group purchase of electricity," said city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who has spearheaded the city's exploration of the idea over the last couple of years. "Benefits include a better price on your electric bill, price stability and budget certainty, avoiding spikes in electricity prices, and you can have access to 100 percent green renewable electricity."
The city has been working with the Municipal Electric & Gas Alliance [MEGA], a non-profit group based in Ithaca that is looking to negotiate electricity purchased on behalf of municipalities. Other Capital Region communities that have approved laws or are exploring community aggregate purchasing include Schenectady, Albany, Troy, Niskayuna, Altamont, Bethlehem, Glens Falls, Guilderland, Kinderhook, Knox, New Scotland, Voorheesville and Watervliet.
Saratoga Springs began exploring the idea a couple of years ago, but then slowed down its process to give MEGA more time to gather other municipalities into the group.
"We're hoping we can go all-green, and also come back less expensive," Madigan said.
If all the communities considering joining sign on, the alliance will be representing about 90,000 households and could start soliciting bids from electricity suppliers in mid-April, said Louise Gava, MEGA's project leader.
Under the local law, residents are assumed to be willing to have the city negotiate on their behalf, but any residents can opt out of the program without penalty, Madigan said. There will also be a community education plan developed, and a letter will be sent to all residents explaining the plan and their choices.
Madigan said having a CCA is a step toward a goal of Saratoga Springs becoming a "climate smart" community.
Rayna Caldwell, chairwoman of the city's Climate Smart Task Force, said she supports the law, but she noted that passing the law isn't a final commitment by the city to municipal purchasing.
"This law would just allow us to have the choice of community choice aggregation, it doesn't compel us to have it. We still have to accept any contract that MEGA would present to us, and we still have the power of saying no, or no, we want something different," she said. "Community Choice Aggregation is definitely a trend both in New York state and in other states."
To date, there are operating CCAs in Westchester County, two in the Hudson Valley, and one in the Ithaca area, Gava said. The CCAs typically have signed two-year supply contracts. The concept is new enough that only Westchester County is on its second contract, Gava said.
Any contracts MEGA negotiates would be subject to review by the state Public Service Commission, as well as acceptance by the municipalities. "Realistically, we're hoping customers will start to see a benefit by September," she said.