Carole Collins, Director of Energy and Sustainability
July 7, 2020 • Carole Collins of Greenfield, MA, tells us why Greenfield started a community power program five years ago and how the program has affected Greenfield ratepayers.
"It was just really great to use this kind of untapped tool. OK, everybody gets an electric bill. OK, we can turn that into something great. And a nice little side benefit is you save some money in the process, while also doing what I would say is the right thing----supporting green power and making our voice heard."
NOTE: Before listening to this interview, we recommend listening to our explainer guide on Community Power.
My name is Carole Collins, and I'm the Director of Energy and Sustainability for the City of Greenfield, and we've been operating a municipal aggregation program since January of 2015.
How do you describe Greenfield’s community power program to someone who's never heard of it?
I've actually had a lot of practice over the years! Since we rolled it out, we've been offering 100 percent green power, and it's for every customer of Greenfield. Whether they're commercial, industrial, or residential, they can join in with us and participate, and we're able to purchase electricity on behalf of the community that is 100 percent green and also in most cases is saving over the utility’s offering.
Five years ago when you started this, what were your goals?
One of the main points that is used to argue for community aggregation or community power is that it offers a choice to customers, and that was something that, even though people were eligible to find other suppliers if they so choose, it takes time and effort and a lot of research. So the mayor at the time, one of his big goals was to be able to offer this choice to the community. And also, one of the other things that's really great about community power is there's a certainty. In Massachusetts, the rates change twice a year, and every customer is just beholden to whatever that is. With us and with most community powers that I'm aware of, they lock in for at least a year, if not longer, and so you have price stability that way.
So you have this community aggregation, community power program. People are automatically opted in. Are there a couple of option within the power program that you offer to people?
We had had some previous options with different, what I called shades of green. We are offering 100 percent green power, but Class One RECs are really what's considered the gold standard of what green power is. So we now offer our standard 100 percent green. Everyone's opted in unless they choose not to be part of it. And they can come and go at any time with no cost or any penalties. And then we have a local green option. It's 100 percent Class One RECs, so that's all New England-based, newer renewable energy project.
How do the aggregation rates compare to Eversource's sources? Are ratepayers saving money by being part of your aggregation community power program?
We work with a broker who's extremely skilled, and they're the ones that actually secure our supply for us. And then we decide yes or no. We compare our annual rate to the average of what Eversource's rate between their winter and summer rates. So typically, the winter rates tend to be much higher, and then it drops in the summer. And then, if you average those two numbers, that's what we use to compare to our annual rate. And in that case, we've saved an aggregate of over a million dollars for all of the customers that have participated. So that's over five years, and it's over thousands of customers, but it's still... we're offering them savings, and it might not be much, but at least it's something. And the fact that's 100 percent green, I think people are really appreciative that they have this option.
To follow up, could you tell me a bit more about how this power program aggregation program has been received by the community?
I think overwhelmingly, it's been very positive. It's hard to know what a wide spectrum is, but I'm always amazed when I meet someone who I've never met before, who was like, “Oh, thank you so much. This is so great.” And I'm like, “Oh my gosh!” It's just kind of amazing because most people don't ever think about their electric bill, you know? And the other thing too, no matter who you get your electricity supply from, you still get your bill from the utility. We've uncovered that, as well. There's a lot of third party suppliers that use kind of unscrupulous tactics, so we've helped a lot of people, mostly elderly people and people on fixed incomes that were unknowingly switched to a third party supplier. And that's been something I've been very active with and involved with our Attorney General's office and they've been very active at trying to limit that because there are a lot of practices where people are paying a lot more than they need to. So it's kind of been great as an educational tool, as well, to make sure people are aware. Now people are really educated on what's going on with their electric bill and being cautious and knowing that the utility’s never gonna call them up and try to switch them or come to their door, which we see a lot also, which is unfortunate.
I just want to break down, though, the situation that you're talking about. So, like Keene, Greenfield has Eversource as its utility. The market is deregulated, so people, even before your power program, could choose to buy energy from a third-party suppliers. And you're saying that sometimes those third party suppliers have some, we'll say, nefarious practices. And then the community power program is this third option where there is more predictability and maybe almost some sort of consumer protection, in a way because you know what you're getting. Do I have that right?
Right. I will definitely say that maybe it's not necessarily my role, but it's just something that I can't let sit when I do hear from these people. And then, we always have to tell them, “Have your bill in front of you and now look on the second page and tell me what this number is and what this says." And that's when we'll find out that they have been taken advantage of. And again, a lot of the third party suppliers, the way they get you is they have a great introductory rate and you are saving some money, but the small print says, "This is only for three months," and then it goes up to the highest rate possible. That's been a huge facet of our community power is really driving home all of the details and trying to make people more aware. A lot of good programs out there, as well, but there's these bad actors that just keep coming up and more and more sinister tactics.
When you were rolling out your community power program, what are some common questions or concerns or you heard from people? Maybe some things that were confusing.
We have a lot of people that had solar, so that was a big concern. People weren't sure how it would work with their net metering, and it doesn't impact that at all. It still works. So that's great. The other big thing was, we have a fair number of people on fuel assistance. They get a lower rate on their utility because they meet a criteria. That is also not impacted. You still receive the same discount. I don't think it's as much of a question, but if your power goes out, you still call Eversource. If, you know, there's some kind of issue, you still get the service from Eversource. Roughly half of your bill is the distribution of the electricity and getting it to your home. And we're dealing with the supply, what's actually in the wires coming through.
Is there anything else you think is important for people to know when it comes to community power?
I feel very fortunate to have the position I have in Greenfield. There's so many ways to get towards our goals of being fossil fuel free and saving energy and, likewise, then saving the community money. Every project that I work on, the goal is to, in addition to achieving the environmental goals that we have set, also reducing the burden on taxpayers. So, in this case, being able to do community power for no cost to the city, we've been able to do all of it with these great experts that are very knowledgeable. We've worked hand in hand to kind of achieve the goals that we've achieved. Just one hundred percent green was a great first step, and then having the local purchasing of the RECs was another just kind of icing on the cake. It was just really great to use this kind of untapped tool where, OK, everybody gets an electric bill. OK, well, look, we can turn that into something great. And hopefully, a nice little side benefit is you save some money in the process, while also doing what I would say is the right thing----supporting green power and making our voice heard.