Municipal green electricity offering taking shape for Amherst, Northampton, Pelham residents

  • AP PHOTO/JEFF ROBERSON AP PHOTO/JEFF ROBERSON

Staff Writer
Published: 6/12/2023 1:20:09 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Community choice electricity aggregation in Cambridge has allowed the city to use money collected through the program to build its own renewable energy project that now produces power for those enrolled. On Nantucket, a similar program has supported incentives to help homeowners put solar arrays on their properties.

In other cities and towns in Massachusetts, low-income community solar programs are being sponsored by community choice aggregation, giving low-income members of the community bill credits as a result of electricity produced by solar.

These are among the ways that Paul Gromer, a consultant with Mass Power Choice LLC, says community choice aggregation is paying dividends, beyond having more electricity supplied by green sources, a project that will be happening in the next year or so as Northampton, Amherst and Pelham start up Valley Green Energy.

During a virtual presentation last week by the consultants helping to bring the program into existence, Marlana Patton, a representative with Mass Power Choice, said such programs continue to offer three major benefits, including cleaner energy, competitive and stable pricing, and various consumer protections.

Valley Green Energy doesn’t replace Eversource for Amherst and Pelham customers, or National Grid for Northampton customers, as the companies will continue to own the poles and infrastructure, and deliver the electricity.

“What you can control is your electricity supplier, meaning who’s buying electricity and dumping it on the grid for you,” Patton said.

Electricity customers who use the utilities’ basic service experience price fluctuations with costs changing every season, and there are often spikes during the winter.

“Valley Green Energy is going to be able to sign a long-term contract that will provide price stability for longer than six months,” Patton said.

Though savings can’t be guaranteed, there is an expectation for customers to reduce their bills. Gromer said Massachusetts consumers are already losing money, according to the attorney general’s office, by going with competitive suppliers and private vendors who don’t offer the same consumer protections.

The partnership between the three communities was created in 2018, and they signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2022 to engage Mass Power Choice. Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Pelham Select Board Chairman Robert Agoglia were all part of the virtual forum.

Before launching the program, an aggregation plan will be submitted to state regulators for review and approval. The public can review and comment on the plan until June 30, though Patton said it’s uncertain how long it will take for state regulators to approve this.

Decisions that still need to be made is how much green electricity to offer, with four tiers available depending on how much a customer wants to pay.

Currently, the highest amount of green energy being supplied anywhere is for the community choice aggregation program in Newton, where the default option is an additional 62% renewable sources beyond the minimum required by the state.

Whether or not Amherst, Northampton and Pelham want to emulate Newton will have to be decided by balancing the amount of renewable energy with cost, Patton said.

Whatever happens, Gromer said renewable sources won’t run out, and that these programs can help to increase demand for renewable energy and solar, wind and hydro sources.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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