Tuesday night, the Town Council cleared the way for the Town to negotiate “green” electrical contract for all residents and many business customers that will have a small savings, and will include a much larger portion generated by renewable methods.
The new Community Choice Aggregation program will be an opt-out program, into which all residents, small businesses and organizations will be enrolled automatically. The goal is to have 50 percent of the energy generated by renewable sources (such as solar, wind generated and hydro), and the rate will result in an estimated savings of $7 a year, said Watertown Energy Manager and Facilities Project Manager Ed Lewis.
Watertown customers will have the option of opting for a basic rate (which includes the state required amount of renewable energy), for a plan with electricity from 100 percent renewable sources, or to opt out of the program completely. The renewable energy will be from producers in the Northeast region, Lewis said.
The program would make a significant impact on the amount of green house gases created, Lewis said.
“Any one percent of renewable energy removes 470 tons of carbon dioxide,” Lewis said. “For the average car that would be driving 1 million miles.”
The Council’s vote gave the Town Manager authority to approve a contract, which will likely be 2 to 3 years. Exactly how people will pay, and what amount of renewable energy will be included will not be known until the contract is signed, Lewis said, who said the energy market changes quickly, Lewis said.
The summer rate released recently by Eversourse is 10.836 cents per kilowatt hour, and the estimated winter rate for next year is 12.9086 ¢/kwh, Lewis said. The estimated rate for the new contract is 11.7 ¢/kwh based on test bids, Lewis added.
He noted that when the Town first began looking into the Community Choice Aggregation program in September 2017 the goal was to go above the state renewable requirement by 5 percent, Lewis said. In Fiscal Year 2019 the requirement is 14 percent and in FY 2020 it will be 16 percent. The town should be at least 35 percent above the state level of renewably generated electricity.
Some Want More Renewable
Some residents and councilors wondered if Watertown could go for more than 50 percent renewable.
“We are hearing and reading about how people feel they can’t do anything about climate change. This is giving the Town Council a chance to doe more and have a real impact,” said resident Ellen Rothman, who said she would like to see at least 50 percent renewable.
Resident Jocelyn Tager said she would like to see at least 60 percent renewable.
Councilor Lisa Feltner said that she would love to see the Town start higher than 50 percent. She points out that State and Federal governments are looking at creating carbon taxes that would put a charge on using fossil fuels. If it costs more, it would be less costly than other steps residents can take to reduce green house gas emission.
“It is easier to do than to outfit your house to be more energy efficient or put on solar panels,” Feltner said.
Council President Mark Sideris said he did not think that the agenda item was advertised to indicate that the electricity rate may be increased, and he would not feel comfortable approving it on Tuesday.
Councilor Woodland said he would want to get input from his constituents before voting on a contract that would raise rates.
Councilor Angeline Kounelis said that some while some people want to maximize the amount of renewable energy, even if it costs more.
“Not everyone feels that way,” Kounelis said.
Also, she asked if people who qualify for income-based discounts on their electrical bills will still have them in the new program. Lewis confirmed that they would continue to get the discounts, and that they would roll over into the new program so people won’t have to apply again.
The timing of the contract negotiation is key, Lewis said, because electricity rates will change June 1, and are expected to increase due to some new state regulations. If a contact is signed, however, the rate will be grandfathered in. He added that the state Department of Public Utilities did not give approval for the Town’s plan until a couple weeks ago.
“We immediately worked to get it on the next Town Council meeting agenda,” Lewis said after the item was discussed.
Feltner said that she was concerned that the Council could not have more time to discuss the options.
“I feel like I was not well prepared for this vote, and now you are saying we need to pass it before June 1 so we can’t even delay it until the next meeting,” Feltner said.
Councilor Tony Palomba asked if the Town could aim for a contract that is cost neutral, so customers would pay the same amount but it would have the most renewable energy as possible. Consultant Joe Shortsleeve said that it is difficult to be that precise.
“It is tremendously difficult to estimate what electricity rates will be,” Shortsleeve said. “We can aim for a cost neutrality, but we can’t say for certain that’s what the it will be.”
Once the town signs a contract, Lewis said, efforts will be made to educate residents and customers about the new program, and their options. He anticipates there will be at least one public information meeting.