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Geneva first in region to launch energy program 

The Town of Geneva will be the first community in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region to go live with a program that will switch households and small businesses over to a fully renewable electricity supply, unless those customers say that don't want it. The change will happen on July 1.

Geneva was able to secure the supply of 100 percent renewable energy, all of which will be generated in New York, through a state-approved mechanism called community choice aggregation. It's essentially a purchasing effort where the town and its hired administrators solicited bids for electricity suppliers that could meet the needs of residential and small business customers in the town. The customers then buy their electricity from the chosen suppliers unless they opt out, which they can do at any time.

Geneva officials see the switch as a continuation of their other environment- and climate-conscious initiatives, which include laws encouraging solar development and allowing denser housing development near the City of Geneva. The latter is intended to protect farmland and use existing city services.

"We're trying to do what we think to be the right thing and it's not costing anybody anything," Venuti says.

Local climate activists see the Geneva program as a milestone. They've been urging Rochester-area town, village, and city governments to pursue community choice aggregation and to prioritize securing renewable electricity supplies to residents.

The Rochester People's Climate Coalition has been working with Joule Community Power to guide local municipalities through the community choice aggregation process. Some coalition members also formed a company, Roctricity, with the goal of working as the local manager for the aggregation programs. Geneva hired the firm for that purpose; the company does education and outreach work, and it also handles opt-out requests.

Geneva is "participating in a movement towards transitioning our grid to a renewably-supplied grid" and its commitment signals to the marketplace "that this is what people want," says Sue Hughes-Smith, an RPCC leader who's led its community choice aggregation push. She is also a partner in Roctricity.

Groups such as RPCC say the approach is a powerful tool for encouraging development of renewables in New York, as long as the local governments treat it that way and seek out renewable electricity supplies that are generated within the state. Governments and their hired administrators aren't required to seek an all-renewable power supply through the community choice aggregation process. If the communities want, they can pursue a cheaper option without regard to the generation mix.

Geneva and its administrators were able to secure the renewable supply at a rate that is just slightly lower than the average NYSEG charge; the town is within NYSEG's service area. In addition to opting out entirely and keeping the NYSEG supply and rate, households and small businesses can also opt for a supply that uses a more traditional mix, which includes renewables along with fossil fuel generation. And that option has a lower rate than the forthcoming all-renewable default supply or the NYSEG average.

However, Hughes-Smith says she hopes customers will stay with the default.

Geneva is also working with Joule on a community solar project, which households and small businesses in Geneva and other Finger Lakes communities can sign up for. Each customer would get a chunk of the project's power, which costs about 10 percent less than NYSEG electricity. Geneva residents who remain in the community choice aggregation program can sign up for it.

More information on the aggregation program is available at www.fingerlakescommunitychoice.com and on the community solar program at www.genevacommunitypower.com.

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