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Press release content from PR Newswire. The AP news staff was not involved in its creation.

Finger Lakes, NY Activates First Opt-Out Community Choice Solar Program in the U.S.

September 1, 2021 GMT
(PRNewsfoto/Joule Community Power)
(PRNewsfoto/Joule Community Power)
(PRNewsfoto/Joule Community Power)

FINGER LAKES, N.Y., Sept. 1, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The Villages of Brockport and Lima today activated the first opt-out community choice solar program in the United States. Part of Joule’s Finger Lakes Community Choice program, the groundbreaking offering has been made available to more than 3,800 households and small businesses and will reduce residents’ electricity bills by up to 10% for the next 25 years.

Brockport and Lima have partnered with six local community solar farms, expected to generate a combined 134.4 million kilowatt-hours annually. As each farm begins to generate power, residents subscribed to that farm will start receiving savings. The solar farms are expected to begin operation in October 2021—all residents will be covered by Spring 2022.

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All eligible residents are automatically enrolled in the program without having to sign a contract, undergo a credit screen, or have solar panels installed on their homes. Should a resident wish to disenroll (opt-out) from the program, they are free to do so at any time with no penalty.

This structure enables municipal leaders to expand access to community solar benefits to all their constituents, including the low- to moderate-income (LMI) residents who have historically been unable to benefit from traditional opt-in community solar or community choice electric supply programs due to state regulation and socioeconomic barriers. Of the 3,800 eligible customers in the Finger Lakes Community Choice opt-out solar program, more than 200 are low-income households and approximately 300 are moderate-income. Going forward, LMI residents will continue to be first in line to receiving solar credits within a municipality.

In addition to the opt-out community choice solar program, Finger Lakes Community Choice also launched a community choice electric supply program, which will provide residents and businesses in Brockport and Lima with 100% renewable energy for the next two years, powered by New York State run-of-river hydropower. As with community solar, customers can opt out or leave the electricity supply program at any time with no penalty.

Together, the opt-out community choice solar and electric supply programs will provide residents with an estimated 154.4 million kWh of renewable energy, avoiding 109,451 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. These types of locally led community choice energy programs will be an important pillar in achieving New York’s mandate to reach 70% renewables by 2030, with 35% of the benefits targeting LMI residents.

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“Our mission always has been and continues to rest on empowering municipalities to have a say in the origin of their energy supply. This groundbreaking program will benefit nearly every resident in Brockport and Lima,” said Jessica Stromback, CEO at Joule Assets. “Unfortunately, a pending regulatory proposal, ‘Expanded Solar for All,’ puts the future of similar projects in jeopardy. If passed in the fall, the proposal would grant National Grid a de-facto monopoly over the community solar market, effectively diminishing the power of local municipalities to drive renewable energy growth from the ground up.”

While the pending proposal, submitted jointly by NYSERDA and National Grid, aims to expand community solar access to LMI residents enrolled in HEAP, it excludes approximately 65% of LMI New Yorkers who aren’t enrolled in the program. Opt-out community choice solar programs have the potential to benefit a much larger number of LMI residents.

The public comment period for the E-SFA proposal closed on August 23 with 277 responses submitted in opposition from a wide range of stakeholders, including CCA municipalities, solar developers, and concerned citizens, representing 98% of the total feedback. The Public Service Commission is expected to vote on the proposal later this fall.

“Community choice aggregation has long been our goal and through this partnership with Joule, we finally have a program that will benefit our residents with guaranteed savings and help New York reach its clean energy goals,” added Lima Deputy Mayor John Wadach. “The fact that our residents will be able to reap both financial and environmental benefits without having to take any action makes our efforts worthwhile. We hope that other municipalities will also have their voices heard and can offer similar programs to benefit their residents.”

“Our constituents have experienced first-hand the financial benefits that come with community choice aggregation, and we’ve eagerly awaited the opportunity to participate in an opt-out community choice solar program that would benefit a large portion of our residents,” said Brockport Mayor Margaret Blackman. “Community solar is the future of clean energy and it’s critical that municipalities be heavily involved in the process of serving their residents to make community solar possible.”

Joule is the sole program administrator with approval from New York State to integrate community solar and electric supply in a community choice offering. As Joule expands its offering throughout New York State, it is looking to add 250 MW of community distributed generation solar capacity in utility zones north of Westchester County. Of this, 80% is being contracted specifically to serve LMI residents within participating municipalities.

ABOUT FINGER LAKES COMMUNITY CHOICE

Finger Lakes Community Choice is a community choice aggregation program—comprising communities in Western New York—that enables participants to save money on electricity by pooling local electricity demand in order to leverage the collective buying power of their residents and small businesses in effort to secure more favorable terms on their energy supply and/or community solar contracts, protect consumers, and choose renewable generation sources. The participating communities include the Town of Geneva and the Villages of Brockport, Honeoye Falls, and Lima. As of July 1, 2019, the default energy supply to homes and small businesses in the Town of Geneva is 100% renewable. The groundbreaking community choice solar program will be an important pillar in the NY State Climate Action Plan mandate to reach 70% renewables by 2030. Finger Lakes Community Choice was formed in partnership with Joule Community Power. To learn more, visit fingerlakescommunitychoice.com.

ABOUT JOULE COMMUNITY POWER

Joule Community Power is developing a clean energy future by bringing the power of choice to municipalities across New York State, empowering local decision-making, enabling access to cleaner and cheaper energy, and making it easier for New Yorkers to transition to renewable electricity. Through community choice aggregation (CCA), Joule helps municipalities join together to aggregate the buying power of residents at large enough scale to negotiate more favorable terms of their energy contracts, decrease electricity costs, designate renewable generation sources, choose clean energy, increase consumer protection, select a default energy services company, support local renewable generation, and deliver the benefits of solar, or other renewables, to entire communities. Joule, the only CCA Administrator in NY State with a Public Service-Commission-approved implementation plan that integrates community solar, launched the first and only community choice solar program in the country, bringing the benefits of solar to entire communities. Having created the blueprint to guide communities through a smooth and empowering process that moves energy consumers away from fossil fuels to clean energy, Joule aims to scale its Community Power model across NY State and beyond. As of June 30, 2021, Joule provided access to clean energy and community solar to more than 330,000 households in 39 communities. Joule Community Power is a division of Joule Assets. To learn more, visit joulecommunitypower.com.

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SOURCE Joule Community Power