WESTCHESTER POWER
November 2016
A Program of
Sustainable Westchester and
Participating Municipalities
 
 

Program Director's Note

The Westchester Power Community Choice Aggregation program is something of a miracle. Of course it was very much the product of the hard work that Sustainable Westchester's Mike Gordon, Leo Wiegman and others put in to bring it about, but the fact that so many towns and officials at all levels aligned and synchronized to create this ground-breaking program is quite amazing. Here in our Mount Kisco office it is our job to make sure that this work yields the results that were envisioned, and does so in the most cost-effective way possible. Communicating with our members (you!) is a critical element of this work. We hope you take a moment to learn about what we do.   
--  Dan Welsh


 

 

 

Who we are, what we do, and why 

If you’re old enough, you might remember when your electric supply was a simple matter: your power came from “the electric company” (either Con Ed or NYSEG, depending on where in the northern suburbs you lived). They did everything: supplied the electricity, generated it, and bought it as needed from other utilities. You had no say in how much they charged, except for an occasional hearing before the state Public Service Commission (PSC), which approved rate increases. You also had no say in how it was generated.

Then, in the late 1990s, the PSC approved plans for deregulating the state’s power industry, theoretically to lower rates for consumers. Over a period of years, utilities restructured, splitting off their power generation operations, and offering customers the option of choosing their generation supplier from among a number of “ESCOs”—energy service companies—who would compete with each other.

Customers had a choice of ESCOs offering varying prices, contract lengths, pricing structures, and sources of power—including green or sustainable options. But for reasons that included the extra effort needed, the complexity of the process, or lack of familiarity with the new regulations, most customers simply stayed with their default utility supply from either Con Ed or NYSEG. So while the idea of competition for lower rates or greener power was there, not many people took advantage.

That’s where we come in. About three years ago, Sustainable Westchester took up this challenge. Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA, was enabled in 6 states at the time, but not yet in New York. The CCA bulk purchasing model provides the bargaining power to obtain price and green advantages from ESCO suppliers. The project team obtained expressions of interest from member towns and with support from area legislators navigated to approval of a pilot by the PSC. In 2015 power contracts went out to bid, with the proviso that proposed rates had to be lower than the average utility power cost for the previous twelve months.

Check if your town is participating: http://www.westchesterpower.org/municipalities/

The bid process and subsequent launch was successful. (It was so successful, in fact, that in April of 2016 the PSC issued a "General Order" making CCA possible anywhere in New York State. We like to think that means we’ve done a pretty good job.) Westchester Power was created by Sustainable Westchester as the name for the program, and the entity that administers these contracts. Westchester Power has negotiated to buy electricity at a bulk, fixed price for about 91,000 customers in 20 municipalities. Member towns were given the option of a standard supply or a 100% sustainable supply, with both priced below the amount customers were paying previously. Current contracts lock in these rates for three years in the four towns in NYSEG territory and for two years in the 16 towns in Con Ed territory. 

Con Ed and NYSEG still exist, of course; they are the companies that transmit the power to you, maintain the lines, and bill you for everything. The charges for their services, and the charge for the actual electricity you buy, are listed separately on your bill.

In the end, Westchester Power is here for you, our customers. We are reaching out to municipalities in Westchester that have not yet joined and are interested in bringing CCA benefits to their residents, since the more towns that join, the more clout we will have. Our operating costs are paid out of a 0.1 cent/kwh admin fee that comes from the suppliers. We're working to get a better, greener deal for the residents of our member towns than default customers could get on their own, and we’re happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

It's REAL Customer Service 

Prepare for an electric shock! 
Have you ever dealt with a big, faceless call center? You will be pleasantly surprised by what you find at Westchester Power. Not only do we offer individual attention and one-on-one service, we will take the time to answer the questions you have—as well as questions you may not know you have. And we’re able to show you exactly who will be speaking with you.
Jenna Amundsen, Virginia Steinberg and Dan Welsh are all ready to take your calls and provide you with both information and guidance. They’re right here in Westchester, living in the same communities you do, so they understand where you’re coming from. And they won’t put you on hold and lose you while they transfer your call to someone else.

Jenna has been with Westchester Power from the beginning, handling calls through the initial rollout. She knows what a difference having a trusted voice on the phone can make. “At a standard ESCO (energy service company), they have a call center—that’s it,” says Jenna. “I can really relate to callers; my customers are my neighbors. The ombudsman role or advocate role we fill has become clear—it’s a strong differentiator, separating us from other providers.”'

Virginia joined a few months ago, and is well-informed on all aspects of Westchester Power, the ESCO marketplace, and what it means for you. “We’re a not-for-profit,” says Virginia. “There are higher levels of accountability we must meet, because we’re here at the behest of local governments all over Westchester. If anything goes wrong with our program, we get calls from Trustees, Supervisors, Mayors…we’re unique in that way.”

Dan, who became Director of Westchester Power in August, is actually intimately familiar with the accountability aspect; he’s a three-term member of the Lewisboro Town Board, and was one of the many volunteers who helped get the entire Sustainable Westchester power aggregation program off the ground. “We are your neighbors and fellow customers,” says Dan, “with a vested interest in helping you.” 
Dan notes that the types of questions callers have run the gamut. “We get a variety of calls,” he says, “folks who’ve heard about us from neighbors and want to learn how to join; rate information; how to deal with ESCOs. It’s a new world for a lot of people; until now you just got your utility bill and paid it.”

“We engage in a lot of customer education,” says Jenna. “We go over every aspect of the bill including usage history, so we really have become Westchester county residents’ advocate in that regard.” Adds Virginia, “We’re the good guys. I even got a call to thank us for how wonderful we are.”

 
 

Get used to seeing the abbreviation "DER" in our correspondence. Distributed Energy Resources is the term which describes all of the various things we can stick on the grid to create value, and its not just solar panels, though that's of course a big one. New York is trying to figure out how to fire this market up:

Read it: How do you value DERs? New York PSC staff rolls out new pricing scheme for REV


We always need to remind you - while Westchester Power fixed price contracts provide insurance against unexpected price rises, they may or may not save money relative to variable utility rates.

Read it: How rising natural gas prices will affect the power sector in 2017


If you haven't seen yet, Elon Musk's latest deployment is pretty exciting:

 
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