New Ro – This is a Really, Really Big Deal. Really.

Renewable EnergyDid I mention that this is a big deal?

Everyone knows (well, most people know) that it’s important to phase out supply-limited, climate-changing fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas . . . and move toward clean, renewable energy like wind, hydro, and solar.

The day will come – hopefully – when we can flip a light switch, power up a computer, or turn on the air conditioner without feeling like we’re doing an injustice to our children and grandchildren.

But getting there could be hard.  Progress can be pain-staking and incremental.  So let’s be realistic about it.  When can we expect New Rochelle’s electricity supplies to be fully renewable?  2050?  2040?  If we’re really ambitious, maybe 2030?

Think again.  Here’s the answer:

Next month.  April 2016.

That’s when all of our electricity goes fully renewable.  All.  Of.  It.  I told you this was a big deal.

Not only that.  To put a handful of cherries on the sundae, we’ll also get a discount on our electricity costs, which will come down by about 5%.  So our power will be cleaner and cheaper.

How did this come about?  New Rochelle and about twenty other municipalities in the area banded together under the auspices of a group called Sustainable Westchester to bargain for a better deal from electricity suppliers.  This effort was specially authorized by New York’s utility regulators as an experiment to test the theory that by pooling the demand of consumers, we could strengthen our leverage in the energy marketplace and deliver lower-cost, greener power for our residents and businesses.  And it worked!

For most of us, who get our energy supplies from Con Edison, the changeover will happen automatically.  So if you are presently served by Con Ed and are happy to start getting clean, green energy at a 5% discount, you don’t have to do a thing.  Con Edison will continue delivering the juice, but it will be supplied by a subsidiary called Con Edison Solutions.  The savings and new renewable power will begin flowing after your April meter-reading.

About a fifth of New Rochelle’s electricity consumers, however, have pre-existing agreements with other energy service companies.  If those folks want to participate, they will have to opt in to the program.

To be very clear,  energy consumers will retain all of their rights.  For example, if you prefer the traditional “brown” energy mix of fossil fuels, you can opt out of the “green” energy package.  (Doing that will save you another 3% on top of the 5% savings in the green rate, which seems like a lousy trade-off to me, but that’s your call.)  Similarly, if you want to pick a different energy supplier instead of Con Edison Solutions, you can do that, too.

A website will go live in the next couple of weeks with lots more information, as well as online opt-in and opt-out features.   Anyone who needs help figuring out their choices will also be able to get personalized assistance over the phone or by email.

Of course, the whole energy delivery process is a little more complicated than this blog post.  It’s not like there’s some special, dedicated line that can connect New Rochelle to a wind farm or solar field; electricity flows from every power plant on the grid.  So we’re getting our power “greened” by Renewable Energy Certificates, which are purchased from renewable power plants and validated by the most rigorous standards in the industry.  It’s all above board, but, even so, it will be good eventually to have additional sources of renewable energy generation in our own region.

I am enormously proud that New Rochelle is on the leading edge of what could become a revolutionary change in the energy market.  Our positive example will almost certainly inspire other communities and regions to move in a similar direction.  Indeed, our success is already attracting lots of attention, such as this Wall Street Journal article.  (There’s a little quote from me in there.)

Plus, by increasing demand for renewable energy, we can create strong incentives for electricity providers to expand renewable energy infrastructure and production – a virtuous cycle that could drive down costs even more.

Great news all around, and a giant leap toward not only achieving, but exceeding our sustainability goals.

So what big economic, environmental, and social challenge should we tackle in May?