Northampton wins $75K grant to explore community-choice energy programs

  • Footage from a drone flown over Eversource power lines in Allenstown. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/19/2018 8:29:58 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The city of Northampton has been awarded a $75,000 grant to explore Community Choice Energy PLUS, in the hopes of creating a model for the promotion of local renewable energy that could be adopted nationwide.

As currently envisioned, a Northampton CCE PLUS would see the city band together with Amherst and Pelham to buy electricity in aggregate and provide lower prices to the municipalities and their businesses and residents. Currently, CCE is legal in eight different states and has been adopted by a number of municipalities.

“There’s a lot of these community-choice energy programs around the country,” said Wayne Feiden, director of the city’s office of planning and sustainability.

However, he said that most of these CCE programs are short-term power purchase agreements and aren’t aggressively facilitating the creation of new renewable energy production.

“You’re not really moving the dial on getting new renewables,” Feiden said.

Enter CCE PLUS, which would use the savings derived from a CCE to specifically promote local renewable energy solutions and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Such solutions would include local solar power, getting people to not use energy at peak times (to avoid the need for the construction of new power plants) and local battery-storage capacity.

This would line up with the city’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.

The Northampton grant will allow the city to explore whether CCE PLUS is viable. It will be administered by the city’s office of planning and sustainability, which will work not only with Amherst and Pelham but with communities state and nationwide, including Cambridge, Jersey City, New Jersey and Saratoga Springs, New York. The CCE PLUS model aims to build on the experience of CCEs in California.

“Once again, Northampton is taking the lead,” said Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, who praised Feiden.

Feiden authored the grant, which was awarded by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.

Narkewicz said he will be looking at whether the CCE PLUS model is financially worth it.

“Is it a viable business model?” he asked rhetorically.

A little over a year ago, Northampton, Amherst and Pelham convened a working group to explore the idea of forming a CCE with the three communities. This was done following lobbying from the group Western Mass Community Choice Energy, which has representation on the working group.

Narkewicz said that the working group will eventually report back to the communities with the recommendation of whether to go with a CCE or a CCE PLUS model. Although the $75,000 grant will run through 2019, a recommendation on the matter could come that fall.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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