BETHLEHEM — More than a dozen residents offered mixed reactions to the regional Community Choice Aggregation program the town is exploring during a public hearing at Jan. 8 town board meeting.
The public hearing addressed the Town Board intending to pass a local law authorizing the creation of the CCA program. The town board will vote on the proposed law in its Jan. 22 meeting. This local law is needed so that Bethlehem can continue exploring the program, which it has since last October. However, it does not force the town to ultimately enroll in it. It is important to note that Bethlehem is exploring it for now but it has not officially enrolled in it and the town has the option to leave the CCA program down the road.
Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance is a local corporation that would manage the CCA and help residents (and businesses that use under 2,000 kilowatt hours a month) purchase electricity in bulk from renewable energy resources. MEGA intends to get most or all electricity from renewable sources like solar, hydro and wind. By default, National Grid supplies and delivers electricity to all customers unless they choose a separate provider, but under CCA, National Grid would still deliver electricity while a new supplier is chosen after a bidding process through MEGA and agreement from enrolled municipalities. While National Grid’s supply price changes monthly, the price per kilowatt hour is fixed under CCA so residents know how much they will pay in advance for the energy they use.
The CCA program is regional in nature because 14 local municipalities, totaling over 90,000 households, have also joined to explore it, including the towns of Guilderland, New Scotland, Niskayuna and Knox, the villages of Kinderhook and Voorheesville, and the cities of Glens Falls, Troy, Watervliet and Saratoga Springs.
While the public hearing was initially meant to only happen on Jan. 8, Town Supervisor David VanLuven said it is now extended to the Jan. 22 town board meeting because the local law was “inadvertently” not posted in the Jan. 8 agenda.
Residents who supported the program often brought up the importance of being environmental and the potential of seeing their bills reduced. Those who opposed or were hesitant about it generally disliked the opt-out feature and how there is not a 100 percent guarantee yet of seeing their bills reduced.
Under the regional CCA program, if a municipality enrolls in it after agreeing to a set supplier, its residents will get a letter in their mailbox, including information about the program, pricing and contract’s terms as well as how to opt out of it, if they want. Residents have 30 days to opt out for free and if they don’t, they are automatically enrolled in the program. But even after the program officially starts, residents can still opt out at any time with no penalty.
This caused some residents to be concerned that they would be forced into the program, have to take time and effort to learn how to opt out, and be worried that not everyone in town will be informed about the program in time or how to opt out.
“My opinion is that one should always have to opt in to choose something; they should never automatically be opted in to anything and if you want to get people in, opt in,” said resident Frank Kuwik. “They should not force people to opt out of a choice. … The town should have more regard for its residents and that they shouldn’t be pulling a stunt on them. Instead of worrying how to get opt-out information to everyone, instead it should be an opt-in situation, showing how great this is and why you should sign up.”
Resident Linda Jasinski said, “This is not about the cheaper price for the people here. This is about your agenda for renewable resources and solar electricity. My agenda is a cheaper cost. Prove to me that it’ll be a cheaper cost and I’ll opt in.” She added that having an opt-in feature would be better instead as it gives residents a choice to join something if they want.
In contrast, resident Pattie Beeler, who is involved in citizen action group Bethlehem Tomorrow, expressed support for the CCA program and amazement at how many municipalities have joined to explore it so far. She said opting out “may be an extra step for some but maybe that extra step will give the pause necessary to think and educate and make the choice to not opt out.”
She continued, “A 100 percent clean energy Community Choice Aggregation is of vital importance to this community, to farming, to our forests, to the protection of our water systems and our earth.”
Aliza Cotton, a Bethlehem High School sophomore and the secretary for its Students for Peace and Survival organization, said the environment is a top issue in the world now. She brought up the current Australian bushfires as an example which have devastated lands, killed around one billion animals, are costly and more.
“Bethlehem is a town proud to lead by example in our county and our state. The CCA will allow us to show what the future can be like for towns across Albany County, New York and even the country,” Cotton said. “A vote for the CCA is a vote to continue Bethlehem’s tradition of leadership. A vote for the CCA is a vote for the future of the youth of this town. And it is a vote that we can defeat the climate crisis together.”
Louise Gava, the CCA project leader for MEGA, attended the meeting, briefly spoke about the program, listened to residents’ comments on both sides and even spoke to some after the meeting. She said she was touched by Cotton’s words, especially how she was a young student speaking at a full town board meeting.
In a phone interview, however, Gava said, “I think it’s unfortunate that some folks who didn’t like the program didn’t get to attend an informational meeting or read the paper or whatnot. Some of their concerns come from how they don’t understand the program but I’m always open to listening and answering questions.”
She added that the concerns brought up in the meeting have similarly been discussed across other municipalities who have joined to explore the program too. “Almost all of the concerns I’ve heard so far are able to be managed,” she said. “But what you can’t manage are those who don’t like the opt out option.”