Could lower electric bills be coming?

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Will Lewisboro residents soon see a reduction in the cost of electricity?

The answer remained up in the air this week, even as the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program appeared ready to provide savings to some other towns.

After the Town Board voted unanimously last July to join the CCA program, Sustainable Westchester, the consortium of 20 Westchester municipalities that administers the program, set about creating formal RFPs (requests for proposals) to solicit bids from energy service companies (ESCOs). The goal was to obtain more favorable energy rates for residents, with Lewisboro residents receiving energy from a provider through a “bundling” process that would result in lower rates.

However, according to Leo Wiegman, executive director of Sustainable Westchester, as of this week the results have been split. While the 17 towns that are Con Ed customers have received bids that are compliant with RFP guidelines, the remaining towns that are customers of NYSEG — including Lewisboro — did not receive compliant bids.

Down to the wire

“As of today we did not get a compliant bid, below the benchmark price, for the NYSEG service areas,” Wiegman told The Ledger on Tuesday. “We are still working on it, and we’re hopeful we will get a compliant bid within the next couple of days.”

Wiegman said they were pulling out all the stops and giving bidders “every last opportunity” to comply.

“We have at least four town supervisors who are anxious to get a better price,” said Wiegman.

He said there are about 20,000 customers in the NYSEG service areas, which include Lewisboro, North Salem, Somers, and part of Bedford. Another NYSEG town, Pound Ridge, was not included in the RFP because it did not pass the necessary approval to join.

“If there is no compliant bid this week — an offer that is below the 2015 price — we will probably wait a number of months and try again,” said Wiegman. “There are a couple of other towns, like Pound Ridge, that did not join, and they would have to go through the approval process. We could possibly go forward with a revised RFP that includes a larger number of customers.”

Con Ed towns move ahead

However, the municipalities that are Con Ed customers will be moving ahead quickly to accrue savings on electricity costs.

“Not only did we receive bids that were below the 2015 Con Ed price, but even the price for ‘green’ energy was below the benchmark in those territories,” said Wiegman.

South Salem resident Mike Gordon, a member of the Sustainable Westchester board and an adviser to CCA, told The Ledger that he expected towns that had gotten a favorable bid to start getting their first bills from the new ESCO on May 1.

“We have 20 municipalities that agreed, word for word, to the same 42-page contract with energy supply companies,” said Gordon. “That took two months of good, hard negotiations over every detail.”

The process actually could have gone faster, said Gordon.

“In one sense we slowed it down, so we don’t have a kind of ‘healthcare.gov’ situation — so there aren’t any problems,” he said. “We’re hoping we’ve worked all the bugs out first — we’re trying to be cautious.”

Still optimistic

Gordon is optimistic about the eventual success of the program.

“I do believe we will get precisely the pricing structure we’re asking for,” he said. “I do believe we’re going to be able to save revenues for consumers; I do believe we’re going to get a very viable 100% renewable product for folks, and I do believe we’re going to be able to have community renewables as part of that mix.”

Gordon said he thinks it is going to redefine how the state buys electricity.

“Our goal is to get to 100% renewable energy by 2020,” Gordon said.

First introduced to the Town Board by member Dan Welsh, the CCA pilot program was approved by the state Public Service Commission in early 2015 as a “cutting edge” initiative that would allow municipalities to put out for bid the total amount of natural gas or electricity being purchased by local residents or small business.

“This gives them more control over lowering their overall energy costs,” the Public Service Commission said last year. “The overarching purpose of the CCA program is to allow participating local governments, including Lewisboro, to procure energy supply services for their residential and small commercial customers, who will have the opportunity to opt out of the plan, while maintaining transmission and distribution services from the existing distribution utility.”

Gordon told The Ledger that despite the fact consumers are free to choose from among a variety of ESCOs that compete with each other on price, people just don’t do it, “mostly because they don’t understand how it works.” He said many people find it difficult and time-consuming to research the best prices and terms.

“Seventy-five percent of the homes in Westchester County, and more than 50% of the small businesses, buy their energy directly from the utility company, either Con Ed or NYSEG,” said Gordon — even though the energy market was deregulated years ago, separating the utilities that deliver the energy from the ESCOs that produce and/or sell it.

“You need expertise and buying clout to know what you’re doing, but in actuality the utilities’ role as a backstop has taken precedence, which is why they’ve got most of the market. And people don’t know if they’re being ripped off because there’s no real consumer advocate for that part of the contract,” Gordon said.

No community members spoke about the CCA program when it was the subject of a public hearing last July prior to being approved.

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