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Greenburgh and 26 localities in Westchester have signed agreements with Westchester Power to provide competitive fixed rates for renewable and standard electricity thru bulk purchases. At times the rates are less than Con Ed -other times they are more.
Westchester Power Update
In March the members of the Greenburgh Town Board invited representatives from Sustainable Westchester to present an update on the Westchester Power community energy program. The Town of Greenburgh has been participating in this program since 2016, along with 26 other municipalities in Westchester. Westchester Power provides competitive fixed rates for renewable and standard electricity through a bulk purchase. The goal of this program is to increase accessibility, ease, and affordability of renewable energy for Westchester residents and small businesses by working collectively and leveraging our combined market power. The program has had a large impact on the County’s carbon footprint, and every Greenburgh resident in the renewable supply is making a contribution to that effort and to fulfilling the environmental goals set out in our comprehensive plan.
The presentation focused on Con Edison rates in 2019. Although there remains a net savings reaching back to the start of the program in 2016, Con Edison’s variable supply rates, were lower than the fixed rate provided through Westchester Power during much of last year. The presentation can be found online here:https://westchesterpower.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/WestchesterPowerGreenburghPresentation20200310.pdf In addition, Westchester Power publishes a comparison of their fixed rate and Con Ed’s variable rates on their website: https://westchesterpower.org/rates-so-far/. As always, residents can change their supply option at any time, and can also opt out of the program at any time with no penalty whatsoever. If you have questions about the rates, your energy bill or opting out, please call Sustainable Westchester at (914) 242-4725 or email email@example.com.
The rates from Westchester Power were lower than Con Ed’s initially. Now they are higher. A colleague, Warren Lucas, Supervisor of North Salem mentioned that "The rates have dropped due to the low cost of Natural Gas and significant supply. They have not been too good for 18 months. I suspect with the closing of the Indian Point reactor will push the price up simply due to the lack of capacity and CHPE transmission lines available yet. The second reactor will close down April 2021. The CHPE line will be in place in 2024 or thereabouts."
Recently, the Greenburgh Council of Civic Associations shared a letter with their members urging people to opt out. I invited Westchester Power to respond -which they did. The civic association memo is below along with the response.
Below, we have annotated the GCCA’s letter and responded to several points, which we believe required clarification. We would first like to offer a summary here:
FROM: WESTCHESTER POWER
Westchester Power rates can’t go up or down - it’s fixed BUT Con Ed’s rates change daily
The Westchester Power program is a fixed-rate program, which goes out for a competitive bidding process and obtained both standard supply and green supply rates which were lower than the 12-month weighted average Con Edison rate prior to the bid, which was 8.26 cents per kWh. Since this program has a fixed rate and the utility rate is variable (meaning, it changes daily), we cannot ever guarantee savings in this program. For this reason, looking at rates over a short time period is especially unrepresentative.
IN RECENT MONTHS CON ED’S RATES WERE LOWER---SINCE WESTCHESTER POWER STARTED OFFERING FIXED RATES GREENBURGH RESIDENTS HAVE SAVED
We have acknowledged that the 2019 rates were not as favorable as we had hoped. As stated in the letter below, representatives from Westchester Power came to
Greenburgh’s Town Board meetings and described the historically low Con Edison rates and the losses that it meant for residents during this time period. We also noted that over the length of the program, which has been around since 2016, Greenburgh was still net positive in savings. The goal of this program has always been to reduce GHG emissions while maintaining long-term cost stability.
CALL WESTCHESTER POWER AT 242 4725 WITH QUESTIONS
In this presentation, and in all of our previous communications, we encouraged residents to reach out to our office via phone or email if they have any questions about their rates, bills, or the program. After our most recent presentation in March, in which many of these rate concerns were brought up, we did not receive any calls from Greenburgh residents in regards to the aforementioned topics.
We believe in choice for residents, in fact, that’s why this program was created - to give consumers a new choice, through a vetted municipal program, which wouldn’t have sporadic price spikes and which would provide green power at a competitive rate. As a nonprofit with a mission of sustainability and consumer advocacy, we always give people the opportunity to opt out without penalty, to learn more, and to have their questions answered. This will always be the case.
Residents who are concerned about the potential loss versus utility rates during periods when those are low, and would like to offset the difference, can do so while helping support local renewable energy by signing up for a subscription to Community Solar. Sustainable Westchester’s Community Solar offering provides a guaranteed savings of up to 10% on your whole electric bill (including Con Ed distribution charges). For more information on this opportunity, please visit www.solarizewestchester.com or give our office a call at (914) 242-4725.
Since the beginning, we have aimed to make a difference through community action.
Together, we can give consumers more choice and offset greenhouse gas emissions. We’re meeting with groups all over the County on a regular basis, and we’ll look to schedule an virtual information session for Greenburgh residents at the end of the month.
We hope the information and responses provided here help to clarify the issues raised in the Association’s letter. For us, every interaction is an opportunity to engage more people in the important mission of transitioning to a sustainable energy economy. We thank the Town and its residents for their support of the collective efforts of the Sustainable Westchester consortium.
Program Director, Westchester Power
THIS IS FROM THE GREENBURGH COUNCIL OF CIVIC ASSOCIATION (BOLD PRINT IS RESPONSE FROM WESTCHESTER POWER)
First CCA Contract – How it began – Modest Savings
In 2015, the Town Board discussed with residents the possibility of participating in a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program. The concept was simple and good – if a large number of users joined together to purchase huge numbers of kilowatt hours of electricity, they could negotiate a cheaper price. Supervisor Paul Feiner issued an email blast 9/29/15 claiming that participation in a CCA could reduce our Con Edison bills by “hundreds of dollars.”
In January of 2016, the Town Board passed a local law granting Westchester Power authority through a CCA program to procure electric supply from an ESCO (Energy Supply Company) for a two-year contract [ actually 32 months, see below] for all unincorporated Greenburgh residential and small business users who did not “Opt Out.” The program began with June 2016 meter read dates at a fixed cost of $0.0738 per kWh for the “Basic Supply Option” or $0.0768 for the “Green Option.”
The cost was subsequently increased for residential users to $0.0770 per kWh for the
“Basic Supply Option” and $ 0.0800 for the “Green Option.” There was no penalty to “Opt Out.”
In May 2017, NY State added a Zero Emissions Charge (ZEC) to all utility customers’ rates, whether or not they were in the program. This .32 cent increase was mandated and uniform across all customers, both residential and commercial.
In April 2018, residents received notice from Westchester Power that the rate of the soon-to-expire contract would “remain in place until your January 2019 meter read date.” No approval for this extension was given by the Town Board. Once again residents were made aware they could “Opt Out” of the program without penalty.
The Contract was actually 32 months, but there was a clause which allowed termination at 24 months if either party exercised the early termination option. There therefore was no need for Town Board approval. Rates were favorable at the time, and residents received a notice only because the contract had been characterized as having a two year term, so we wanted to clear that up.
Resident Ken Stahn had opted out of the program. Despite his repeated requests to the Town over the two-year period, no information was provided to the thousands of residents and small business owners the Town Board had enrolled in this ESCO.
See the record of information/postings from the Supervisor over this period below. Clearly not “no information.” Also should note here that Westchester Power Director Dan Welsh spent hours and pages of emails responding to Mr. Stahns many inquiries and comments.
Thus, unincorporated Greenburgh electricity users had no way of knowing whether they were actually saving money and/or whether they should take advantage of the “Opt Out” provision.
Program rates and the utility averages for comparison have been posted on the Westchester Power website (www.westchesterpower.org) since early in the program and those have been included or referred to in our reporting to Greenburgh. We place a high value on information flow and transparency and in 2019 instituted a new Quarterly Reports format which has been going out to municipalities.
The Council of Greenburgh Civic Association (CGCA) was asked to get involved. Following a unanimous vote at the June 19, 2018 CGCA meeting, a letter was sent to Supervisor Feiner seeking information.
The CGCA received a response. In an email blast on July 24, 2018, Mr. Feiner reported that over the 25-month period from June 2016 through June 2018, residents in the “Basic Supply Option” had saved an average $7.78/ month, residents in the “Green
Option” saved $6.00/month, small business owners in the “Basic Supply Option” saved $2.01/month, but it actually cost small business owners in the “Green Option” 22 cents a month.
However, for the very first time the public learned that only 52.67% of the savings actually came from the supply cost per kWh that had been negotiated. Much of the total savings (47.33%) came from a $1.20/month billing and processing payment charge to each customer and sales tax avoidance (3% for residential and 7.375% for small businesses) on the delivery portion of the monthly bill. Savings from avoiding these two charges had never been mentioned earlier. And, these two savings were not unique to the ESCO in which the Town enrolled users, but rather were available to any customer enrolled in any ESCO.
Correct, Supervisor Feiner posted a detailed report at the 2-year mark of the program. As noted, the bill charge and sales tax savings were available to any ESCO customer, although only a minority (generally averaging about 20% of electricity customers) are with ESCOs and were benefiting from these. In large part that is due to the “bad apple” slamming and other bad business practices we see in the industry. This is one of the key reasons why Community Choice Aggregation was established in New York State and is now the default for over 80 municipalities and growing.
Second CCA Contract – Huge Loses
Although the savings had been modest, the Town Board nevertheless voted to continue participation in the CCA for another two-year contract. Beginning with the January 2019 meter read date, all residential and small business owners were enrolled for electric supply in the “Standard Option” at a cost of $0.07709 per kWh with the ESCO Constellation unless they “Opted Out.”
Resident Ken Stahn, who had opted out again, noted each month his Con Edison per kWh costs were lower than the 7.709¢ per kWh costs charged by the ESCO in which the Town had enrolled residential and small business owners. Mr. Stahn’s continued requests to the Town to provide information to the public were ignored.
Finally, on October 15, 2019, Westchester Power was invited to make a presentation at a Town Board work session. At that meeting it was revealed that the Town had enrolled a total of 11,777 unincorporated Greenburgh residential and small business owners in the ESCO Constellation. At the meeting, there was brief acknowledgement that the default Con Edison price for electric supply was at a historic low, but more time was spent blaming higher bills on Con Edison delivery charges. Praise was given for the metric tons of carbon saved – although Greenburgh deserved little credit since few were enrolled in the “Green” option. It was stated electric supply costs would probably increase next year and reference was made to saving money regarding a Community Solar Project. The need for a public update was mentioned, but there was no follow through.
As mentioned earlier, Westchester Power began sending quarterly reports to the Town beginning with the third quarter of 2019 in an effort to increase our reporting and transparency further. Additionally, a “toolkit” with FAQs and other program information was provided on October 30, 2019 to be disseminated to residents. Westchester Power representatives again came back to the Board in March of 2020 and responded directly to Mr. Stahn’s concerns and questions. We always try to reiterate that residents have the ability to opt out at any time and we will never try to infringe on their right to do so at no cost.
Some CGCA representatives who had opted out of the CCA contract felt the Town Board should inform the public about the higher costs to them. Data was collected from the actual Con Edison bills of eight properties – five residential and three small businesses – from different areas. Seven of those properties had opted out of the CCA contract but one business was enrolled. The data revealed that the seven properties that had opted out had saved between $50 and $700 over the 12 billing periods starting in January 2019. The one business property enrolled by the Town in the ESCO actually paid more than $1,000 in additional costs over the 12-month period. Rest assured, that business promptly opted out when presented with this information!
Unfortunately, we have no way of verifying the information regarding these accounts. On the table provided, there are two sets of dates (in the very first column and the very last column) provided in each row and it is unclear if all of these accounts have the same billing cycle, or which dates correspond to which accounts.
In one example provided, the lowest usage in a given month was 1,322 kWh and the highest usage in a given month was 3,039 kWh. This account is a significant outlier compared to the average usage of a Greenburgh resident or even small commercial account. On average, standard residential accounts in Greenburgh used 669 kWh/month in 2019 and green residential accounts averaged 655 kWh/month. Standard small commercial accounts averaged 737 kWh/month and green small commercial accounts averaged 980 kWh/month. Therefore, even if we assumed that the numbers here are correct, the losses for an average customer are significantly less than are being represented here.
At Mr. Stahn’s request, the Town Board invited Westchester Power to make another presentation at its March 10, 2020 work session. The representatives again acknowledged that Con Edison default rates were at historic lows. The presentation included a slide showing that those enrolled in the ESCO paid $1,133,210 more for supply, with the additional monthly costs being between $5.71 and $6.92 for residents and between $4.46 and $10.07 for businesses. However, it was emphasized that those enrolled still had savings over the past three years. Also emphasized was the amount of carbon saved, likely Con Edison cost increases later in the year, the community solar project and how helpful Westchester Power could be to utility users.
Ella Preiser, Dorrine Livson and Ken Stahn attended the meeting. Two tables were presented showing the data collected for the eight properties. Westchester Power representatives were dismissive of the data provided because it contained actual (four-decimal place) per kWh supply costs and did not include a small “Merchant function charge.” They emphasized Con Edison’s rates were unpredictable and the bill was difficult to read.
The rates that were presented to us omitted 5 out of 6 parts of the utility’s supply rate. For reference, Con Edison’s supply rate is made up of 6 parts: the Market
Supply Charge (MSC), the Merchant Function Charge (MFC), the MSC Adjustment
1, MSC Adjustment 2, Zero Emissions Charge (ZEC), and Renewable Energy Charge (REC). The representatives from Westchester Power asked questions to clarify how many of those parts were included in the table, since we know that the full Con Edison rate is difficult to calculate. It was explained that only the MSC was included in their table, and so we provided information on how to calculate the entire rate and also offered our help in doing so.
It was noted at the last session that it was not possible to verify the accuracy of any of these numbers without seeing the bills. Sustainable Westchester offered to look at these bills and verify and we remain committed to doing so. Although we encouraged individuals to reach out to our office if they have questions about their bill and if they would like help calculating a price to compare with the utility, we did not receive any calls after our presentation from Greenburgh residents who wanted help calculating their bill or who had a concern about the rates.
The Town mentioned the need to provide information to the public. The next day (3/11/20) at the regular Town Board meeting, Mrs. Livson mentioned the more than one million dollar cost to Greenburgh users and tens of millions to other Westchester County electric users. She asked the Town to release such information. The Town once again remained silent.
[The detailed report was presented to the Town Board in public session and is available any time as a recording. ]
At the April 22, 2020 meeting, held via Zoom, Mrs. Livson again asked the Town Board to inform the public about the electric costs. The Board agreed to invite Westchester Power to the first work session in May.
ARE YOU PAYING TOO MUCH?
See the attached table which has been revised and lists the one-decimal place costs Con Edison recommends to compare ESCO charges. To determine if you are paying too much, examine the electric supply page on your Con Edison bill and compare the cost per kWh with those shown on the table for the seven properties.
Contrary to the information presented on March 10, it may be costing you far more than the $6 to $10 per month Westchester Power mentioned. Just as an example, following is computation illustrating the cost differences of recent bills for Property #5 (residential) and Property #6 (business). As you can see Property #5 saved $37.15 in just one month and Property #6 saved $115.53 in one month.
1374 kWh @ 7.709¢/kWh = $105.92 + 4.24 (4% sales tax) = $110.02
1374 kWh @ 5.100¢/kWh = $ 70.07 + 2.80 (4% sales tax) = $ 72.87
4086 kWh @ 7.709¢/kWh = $314.99 + 26.38 (8.375% sales tax) = $341.37 4086 kWh @ 5.100¢/kWh = $208.39 + 17.45 (8.375% sales tax) = $225.84
Again, we unfortunately cannot verify the validity of these calculations. There are many billing cycles and each account is different, but 1) the usage of these accounts is between 2x and 4x higher than an average Greenburgh account, and 2) the numbers that we report are based on the actual kWh usage and account counts of Greenburgh residents and small businesses in the program. We again encourage individuals to please reach out to us if they have questions, comments, or concerns about their bill or the program.
Also note: Westchester Power cannot rely on 47% savings from other sources on this contract. The $1.20 per month billing and processing fee remained at $1.20 for businesses but was reduced to 60¢ per month for residents in 2019 and is now 64¢ per month. Since last spring, the monthly bills no longer mention sales tax avoidance (now 4% for residential and 8.375% for small businesses) on the delivery portion of the bill.
The Billing & Processing Payment (BPP) has been $1.20 per bill for residents who are with an ESCO. If a resident is also with an ESCO for their gas supply that savings is split between the two ESCOs, therefore reducing the BPP savings on the electricity supply to 60 cents. However, when we calculate our price to compare, it has always been against the utility supply and we have never indicated any differently. We do not have access to information on how many Greenburgh residents are enrolled in individual contracts with gas suppliers.
Below we have included various outreach activities and public communications that have been issued over the years; although this list is non-exhaustive, we would like to note the continuous effort made by Westchester Power staff to inform residents about the community energy program and maintain transparency and communication.
November 15, 2016 - Patch, Letter to the Editor - “Westchester Power Reduces Utility Rates”, stating savings to date, but noting that with a fixed rate there is no guarantee.
November 24, 2016 - Supervisors repor t
July 24, 2018 - posted update on numbers on facebook and in e-blast -
August 28, 2018 - Town Board Work Sessio n
September 6, 2018 Facebook post about interview with Dan - “Should greenburgh renew program?” (Included link to August 2018 meeting:
September 7, 2018 - Dan and Paul Feiner have radio interview on WP
September 6, 2018 - Patch Article submission by S/V Feiner: “Should Greenburgh Renew With Westchester Power?”
December 2018 - Supervisor’s year-end repor t
October 15, 2019 - Town Board meeting
October 30, 2019 - sent “Toolkit” of information to municipality: