Community Choice Aggregation: Path to a Green Rochester

By: Nilan Lovelace, June 21, 2017
James Sheppard discusses his mayoral run. Credit: Tianna Mañón.

James Sheppard discusses his mayoral run. Credit: Tianna Mañón.

On Friday, April 21, County Legislator and Mayoral candidate, James Sheppard, announced that it’s time for Community Choice Aggregation to come to Rochester. If he were to be elected, Sheppard hopes to bring Community Choice Aggregation into the area, which he says would not only benefit small businesses and residents in Rochester, but would help further Rochester in the fight against climate change. Though his call for action against global warming could be a step in the right direction for Rochester’s carbon footprint, one question still remains: what is Community Choice Aggregation?

According to the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, a network organized to identify and implement solutions that effectively fight climate change, Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) is simply a community buying club. Sue Hughes-Smith, who is leading the Coalition’s CCA team, said, “In its simplest form, CCA is a buying club for energy that allows the community to have access to better energy sources like hydro, solar, and wind energy.” Under CCA, communities in Rochester will have the option to access third-party certified energy suppliers. Where some buildings in Rochester have already begun using solar power as an energy source, using their own solar panels, CCA suppliers would supply energy to the existing grid. This would allow community members to adapt renewable energy without having to physically house the panels, turbines, or mills, themselves. While participation in CCA is completely optional, the more the community gets involved, the better the benefits.

Ben Frevert, a member of Hughes-Smith’s team, went into more detail about the short and long term benefits of adopting CCA. “Key benefits, even in the short term, would be better prices for the community and increased stability.” Solar, wind, and hydro energy, unlike energy produced via fossil fuels, are renewable, meaning the cost of energy would no longer rely on the availability of fuel sources or the fluctuating cost of importing fuel from foreign countries. “As for the long term, as more people join the aggregation, it gives the community more power to negotiate utility cost,” he explained. “Initially, we would try to use whichever sources are available. As more people get involved, there will be more energy options. The community can then choose between suppliers and negotiate better fixed prices as the demand for renewable energy increases.”

pexels-photo-243138Though we know the benefits of CCA, not much information is available on the consumer-level. In Frevert’s words, “CCA is a bit of a double edged sword. It’s great for building and change, but there’s a lack of detailed information for consumer level options until it’s available.” To counter the lack of information for consumers in the community, CCA adoption happens at a municipal level, meaning that the community and government officials would have to agree to participate. If Monroe County joins, it will be the second county in New York state, following the footsteps of Westchester County, which has 14 out of 20 municipalities running on 100% renewable energy as of 2016.

Though consumer-level information is scarce at this stage, the data from Westchester County may be able to provide insight on how CCA could look in Monroe. According to Westchester Power, the county’s CCA, non-CCA utility rates have drastically fluctuated each month over the last year, while CCA rates have remained fixed and at a lower cost for more than half the year.

Hughes-Smith noted that CCA strongly relies on the ability for the community and the municipalities to work together. Not only does the municipality need to work with CCA to find better energy sources and suppliers, there has to be a willingness to buy and opt-in to the CCA by the community. As Rochester transitions from fossil fuels to renewable energy, it could mean an increase in air quality as well as an increase in sustainable businesses. If Sheppard is elected, the adoption of CCA may not only give the citizens of Rochester the power to control their energy options, it could also influences Rochester’s economy and the standard of life.

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