North Brunswick officials consider Community Choice Aggregation

NORTH BRUNSWICK – If approved by members of the Township Council, North Brunswick residents will have the option to choose electricity with more renewable content and at a lower cost than PSE&G.

Community Choice Aggregation allows the township to create a large buying group for electricity made up of residential and non-residential customers so it can seek lower energy supply costs, according to Jim Walsh, a senior energy policy analyst with Food and Water Action, who spoke during the April 27 council workshop meeting.

A customer’s PSE&G bill is made up of two parts – the power supply service charge and the delivery service charge. The Community Choice Aggregation program affects the power supply portion of the bill, or the cost of the kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity.

Walsh explained that the energy will come from a third party provider via a bid process.

The program does not affect the delivery service portion of the bill. PSE&G is still responsible for delivering electricity, reading the meter and sending out the bill. In the event of a power failure, PSE&G is responsible for making repairs and restoring electricity.

“From a customer standpoint, it would be a seamless transition from one energy provider to another … no disruption of service would come from this change,” Walsh said.

For example, in neighboring New Brunswick, the rate for 50% renewable energy is 11.386 cents/kWh, or at 100% it is 11.956 cents/kWh, while PSE&G charges 12.1595 cents/kWh.

Residents who want to take part in the program will be automatically enrolled, but may quit at any time without penalty. Notices would be mailed to all PSE&G customers notifying them of the program and the 30-day opt-out period.

Walsh said an aggregation program is beneficial because sometimes the upfront cost is a major barrier to people, for example, as when installing solar panels. This method instead allows residents to get over barriers regardless of income or accessibility of a home, he said.

In addition, because the cost is built into the contract, the rates will not be affected as residents opt out, Walsh said. There is no minimum amount of residents because the bid is based on 100% participation.

Walsh said New Jersey’s electricity does not come from clean sources; 5% is generated from renewable sources while the remainder is from natural gas and nuclear energy.

New Jersey currently requires that a minimum of 21% of energy sold is renewable, while the number will increase to 50% by 2033. This is due to Gov. Phil Murphy’s commitment to having offshore wind power in three million homes by 2050.

“New Jersey has some of the most polluted air quality in the United States,” Walsh said, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to air quality vs. mortality rates. “If we can reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, we can actually help to lower the overall cost of mitigating some of the damage of overall climate change.

“We think this is a very important step for residents in the township to make a commitment to clean renewable energy, but it also really gives people a practical way to act as clean energy that can be more affordable for people in town,” he said.

During the public portion of the meeting, several residents encouraged the program.

“Small foundational programs like this really lay the framework for larger action in the future and more transformational actions,” Ron Rivers said.

“It’s also good to emphasize there is a choice in there for residents to opt out or opt up,” Ariel Pina said.

Citing a Harvard University study, Matthew Smith said “communities that have the worst air pollution problems are the ones suffering the deadliest impacts of this pandemic. I think this is a timely common sense tool used to clean up air pollution and leave behind a greener legacy for the next generation.”

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com.